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Yongyu Chen

After Everything That Could Happen To Us

A month in the other city. The sea on the rooftops at
night. The stranger’s apartment moves like a wound
when we walk through it. We hide nothing. We
mourn through the cracks. We share what we’re
going to lose. “I wanted to run through your life
backwards” … Alex says … “I wanted to arrive early
at every stop.” One night Laura tells Yifan that she’s
going to write a poem. It’s about dogs, she says. It’s
dogs eating water. It’s beaches full of broken teeth.
It’s the staircases that fall. In love. Falling. In love.
With hunger. In the notebook that we lose we start

from the last page but not the ending. In the notebook
that we lose we write sideways while we break
across survival. We write across the words. “If you needed
me I would have been there” ... Juan says … “If you need
me then I’m there, in five minutes or five hundred
minutes, towards or away from you, swimming and forgetting all
the way across my frozen year, the crushed
moments in the dictionary in my room.” No one reads this.
No one finds this. No one gets it right. Alejandra

says that she’ll visit Yayoi soon. One night Roberto gets sick
of setting his ankles on fire. Roberto gets sick of looking
for the place where our language becomes crueler than the way
it leaves. It leaves. Trips to indestructible beaches. Inland tides.
Your eyes that don’t hurt enough. “Help me” … Andrew
says … “Help me but without the space between your
life and your green hands.” He’s 19 years old. He’s the nicest
kid I know. Laura is 20. The hiding body stares the writing
body in the periphery. In the waiting. And it feels so cold. It doesn’t
feel right, Alejandra thinks. It feels like a place that the body
will always need. “How long

will you stay alive” … Lorenzo asks … “How long
do you need this hour to be” … “How long does it
take to be so far away.” That year we read so

incredible poems. That year we don’t think that this could ever end.
That year we’re tourists in the third person, in the
neighborhoods where everything is on sale. That year we never
see the dead photographers while they chase
the secret police, mistaking them for ghosts. Mistaking
us for old friends. That’s fine. “I understand.” We never saw
them but they were there, even the ghosts. That year, behind
our unlocked doors, we forget the campgrounds. We never see
the two teenagers pretend to be three teenagers and a torch. That
year ruined Messerschmitts fly out of the Atlantic just to drop glass
and archives over our blitzed nonamerican cities while that year becomes
this year and Catherine tells us to wait for her. “Wait for me while the answer
ends.” I don’t know if we did. I don’t

know if we will. “Tell her that we’re already here but we can’t
find her” … “Keep yourself warm” … Lorenzo texts her … “I want
to have your broken glasses” … Franz says … “I want the next
question” … “I want your blank word documents. I’m looking for a verb
with a letter for everything that survives.”

Our faces. Neck to neck, but looking
away. Our faces pieced together by the strobe
lights of the end of the first unending unrevolution.
Abandoned islands. Blue quarantines. We forget two
halves at a time. Don’t turn
the kaleidoscope tonight.

(In this poem I misspell “Call an ambulance” 594 times
How will we save each other)

Yongyu Chen studies Comparative Literature at Cornell University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as AnomalyBlack Warrior ReviewHayden’s Ferry ReviewIndiana ReviewjubilatSonora Review, and West Branch. He is from Beijing, China and grew up in Knoxville, TN.