for Jeanette Li
My friend’s new neighbors in the suburbs
are planting a neat row of roses
between her house & theirs.
Her neighbors smile, say the roses are part
of a community garden project, that’s all.
But they whisper, too—whisper plans for trees,
a wall of them. They plant rumors
that her house is hiding illegals, when it’s aunts
& uncles, visiting. They grow tall accusations
fed by talk radio, that her house was bought
with drug money, not seventeen years of woks
sizzling, people serving, delivering, filing,
people scrubbing, refilling, running—her family
running the best restaurant in town.
Like with your family, my friend says, once we
moved in, they stopped calling us
Friend, let’s really move in, let’s
plunge our hands into the soil.
Plant cilantro & strong tomatoes,
watermelon & honey-hearted cantaloupe,
good things, sweeter than any rose.
Let’s build the community garden
that never was. Let’s call the neighbors
out, call for an orchard, not a wall.
Trees with arms free, flaming
into apple, peach, pear—every imaginable,
Come friend, neighbor,
you, come set the garden on fire
with all our hard-earned years, tender labor
of being here, ceaseless & volcanic
making of being here, together.
Used by permission.
Chen Chen is a University Fellow in poetry at Syracuse University, where he also serves as Poetry Editor for Salt Hill. His work has appeared/is forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, DIAGRAM, Connotation Press, PANK, Chelsea Station, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, among other places. He has received fellowships from Kundiman, Tent: Creative Writing, and the Saltonstall Foundation.
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