Weyman Chan’s fifth collection takes poetry to the laboratory, splicing a layered, tactile network that is Human Tissue. Accompanied by the tones of an erhu, archaic Anglo-Saxon language jostles with Chinese and chatspeak, and self-censure meets Faust and Judith Butler to ask the vital questions of origin. Chan shows us how we come to settle with histories of uncertain beginnings, the presence of science and technology in the mediated body, and how we forge “not knowing” as a vibrant way of being. Below, read two poems from Human Tissue.
Gowns or gloves or bleached insistence going door to door
account for streetwalkers
occupying their causes. Snarled
broken hearts versus
canned YouTube laughter, you leave water at her door,
BOGO and YOLO and FOMO lend
irony enough for not just Africa to consider futures –
BOGO because infection tops twenty thousand
you buy one get one as far as bribing delivery boys
YOLO makes a carnival out of men to women to sphinx problems,
light years beneath covers
like a seventh-century miracle drug, al iksir, that cures
consumption, the no-more-tears formula
if FOMO’s lemon and lifeline twists can’t turn plague into an airy,
how can fear of missing out make a venous stargazer
out of Joe Fresh, or a stunt pilot out of Ms. Yousafzai,
Saharan teapots at her beck and crawl?
The hunting spider played dead when I smacked it with a book
by Graham Greene.
Half an hour later it righted itself, checked its hinges and
started crossing my bedroom carpet again.
It had won. Too scared to touch it, I blew it under
One sacred text mentions a bent arm for a pillow.
Trouble and deprivation can be soft-hearted.
That night in my pyjama party dream, Mom
was nowhere to be found.
Everyone had gathered round the large aquarium
to see a brown clam hanging off a wedge of rot.
I said, Who wants to see a new life form?
Sugary strings vibrated those singing clam-lips.
The creature next to it was even more enchanting,
a Venus flytrap elegantly sprawled.
Piled at the ridge of her florid mast were two scarlet rows of eyes
that flashed hard at us. She wore a crown of blue stinging
bees that buzzed at our faces, daring us to defend
our curiosities where they weren’t wanted, but
try as I might, I didn’t detect indignation
from either creature on display.
Which meant that the burden
to soothe and not wear out the only
welcome they were ever going to get,
blank parsecs across oases of intelligence,
fell to me.
Human Tissue is now available for $18.95