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Jane Wong

My poems always start from notes. I went on a kind of a scavenger hunt through notebooks. What I found from my notebooks: "someone in the apartment next door thrashes their furniture," an image of ants, "the dripping sink, the neighbor's feet above me," and then this thing I wrote: "Dear American Dream, eat roses, eat rats, eat a piece of garbage. Eat a rusted car tire."

All of these ideas swirled into my head as I wrote. I remember this poem being a heartbreak poem. And how everyone around me kept saying: "Well, at least there's something to learn from every heartbreak." I remember thinking: what is there to learn? Should I learn to be more pleasant, more polite? Less "intense"? And I ended with this poem here --- which strangely goes back in time and asks: what can I learn from the wisdom of my younger self? What can I learn from my family's experience with heartbreak (my parents' arranged marriage, the American Dream)?

The answer, by the end, seems to be clear: I must remain myself. Do not lessen, do not be swayed by false promises.

Also, in revision, I've started recording myself and revising after listening to the play-back. Something about hearing my voice/the breath helps. You can see that via the stanza breaks.

*

The poem originally appeared in The Adroit Journal.

< draft >

RETURN TO TWELVE


I wake to the sound of my neighbors upstairs as if they are bowling.
And maybe they are, all pins and love fallen over.
I lay against my floor, if only to feel that kind of affection.
What I’ve learned, time and again:
Get up. You can not have what they have.
And the eyes of a dead rat can’t say anything.
In Jersey, the sink breaks and my mother keeps a bucket
underneath to save water for laundry.
A trickle of water is no joke. I’ve learned that.
Neither is my father, wielding a knife in starlight.
I was taught that everything and everyone is self-made.
That you can make a window out of anything if you want.
This is why I froze insects. To see if they will come back to life.
What is made and un-made.
And yet, each morning, the starting out, the ants pouring out
of the sink, onto my arms in dish water.
My arms: branches. A swarm I didn’t ask for.
No one told me I’d have to learn to be polite, to let myself be consumed.
I must return to my younger self.
To wearing my life like heavy wool, 
weaved in myself. And when debtors come to collect, 
I will pretend not to know.

< REVISION >

lessons on lessening


I wake to the sound of my neighbors upstairs as if they are bowling.

And maybe they are, all pins and love fallen over.
I lay against my floor, if only to feel that kind of affection.

What I’ve learned, time and again:
Get up. You can not have what they have.

And the eyes of a dead rat can’t say anything.

In Jersey, the sink breaks and my mother keeps a bucket
underneath to save water for laundry.

A trickle of water is no joke. I’ve learned that.
Neither is my father, wielding a knife in starlight.

I was taught that everything and everyone is self-made.

That you can make a window out of anything if you want.
This is why I froze insects. To see if they will come back to life.

How I began to see each day: the sluice of wings.
Get up. The ants pouring out of the sink, onto my arms in dish heavy water.

My arms: branches. A swarm I didn’t ask for.

No one told me I’d have to learn to be polite.
To let myself be consumed for what I can not control.

I must return to my younger self. To wearing my life
like heavy wool, weaved in my own weight.

To pretend not to know when the debtors come to collect.