The Sinister Barista Meets the Loch Ness Professor
“Let us prepare for a life of rational happiness.”
—Emily Dickinson’s father in a courtship letter to her mother
The summer everyone I knew was going to Italy. The June everyone got
engaged. So much getting down on one knee, so many surprises
(but not really) in gondolas. I’m not ready for these kinds of summers.
I’m not ready to get engaged, I’m not even ready to open a lemonade stand.
Which is not to say I am not in love or not committed or don’t know
how to make lemonade. I am, I am, & I do. I do but let’s hold off
on saying “I do” with the rings & relatives, cummerbunds & giant cake.
Except let’s not hold off on the giant cake. & let’s not hold off on being
irreversibly in love. Happiness needs no preparation or warrantee
or reason. I’m ready to say that. I’m ready to watch any romcom/action
combo where two people topple tyranny, fall in love. I’m ready
for the movie where four people topple tyranny, fall in love,
& make consensual arrangements to keep it open.
Or six people just stay in & become best friends. Or seven
billion people befriend themselves. I’m ready for the movie based
on a true imagination, the poem based on the loveliest headline:
The Sinister Barista Meets the Loch Ness Professor. I’m ready for them
to meet & talk about their common interests. I’m ready for the summer
of the part-time organist with the full-time son of the seamstress.
The ice cream scooper & the delinquent pooper.
The wholesome mountaineer & the shy puppeteer. The perfectionist
cat owner & the petulant dry cleaner. The mechanic & the crescent moon
enthusiast & the midlife crisis magician. The proudest amoeba.
I am ready to court self daring & raunchy listening.
I am ready to court Emily Dickinson’s collected poems. To court awe
before arguing. To court arguing when necessary. I am not ready for it
but will support people getting divorced from each other if they want to.
I am ready for people wanting cake & a good movie to cry to.
Let us not prepare for a life of rational happiness but let us always
have enough money to buy cake ingredients. Let us discuss
many important matters while we work on the cake.
Like how flamingos get their pink. Or the summer sky its flamingo.
Or how the current time is, in fact, a palindrome: 12:21.
For I Will Consider My Boyfriend Jeffrey
after Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]
For I will consider my boyfriend Jeffrey.
For he is an atheist but makes room for the unseen, unsayable.
For he is a vegetarian but makes room for half-off Mondays at the conveyer belt sushi place.
For he must vacuum/mop/scrub/rinse/hand sanitize/air freshen the entire apartment to
deal with the stress of having received a traffic ticket.
For he dances in his seat while driving us to the supermarket.
For he despises tarantulas, sharks, flying on planes, & flightless birds such as the cassowary
of New Guinea, which he has only seen in videos & thinks looks like “a goddamn
For he is Jeffrey Gilbert of Gilbertsville, New York.
For he possesses in abundance, no, in excess, the sexiest facial hair in the cosmos.
For he allows his beard to grow & grow, & when it has grown up & down & out, & he
knows he must start afresh, he takes a tenderly long time to shave.
For this he performs in ten steps.
For first he looks upon his furry countenance to assess & accept the difficult journey that
lies before him.
For secondly he washes with holistic care his whole foxy face.
For thirdly he does not use any cheap concoction from a can; he uses Arko, a fine Turkish
shaving soap his father gifted him.
For fourthly he brings the soap to an exquisite lather with a handmade brush.
For fifthly he spreads the soap generously about.
For sixthly he wets his sleek razor in the stream of warm water quietly exiting the faucet.
For seventhly he shaves.
For eighthly he shaves.
For ninthly he shaves, then asks me to come help with the tenth & final step: trimming the
back of his neck with a small electric razor.
For having shaved he exclaims that he feels more himself than ever.
For he more than ever cannot stand Dave Matthews Band.
For he owns & occasionally plays a keytar—a keyboard guitar—if you ask him nicely.
For he owns many musical instruments & can be seen fiddling with them for hours.
For he transfers his music onto a computer where he fiddles with it further in a way that is
recognizably mysterious—it’s the prayerful playing around in rhythms & almost-
meanings—& it requires him to wear big silver headphones, & he looks lost, & he is, I’m
sure of it, like I am when I write a poem, but adorably so, like puppies are when they’ve
wandered away from their mother/owner/anything familiar & yes, he’s wandering in
notes & beats like a corgi yet somehow like a wolf too, utterly focused, & like most
members of the canine family I’ve seen, utterly happy.
For he looks happy & doesn’t know I’m looking & that makes his happiness free.
For he creates happiness on purpose & by accident.
For by holding him I can believe not in God but in goodness.
For by kissing him I can believe not in eternal life but in life.
For he does not fare well on planes but will fly if it means flying to those he loves.
For he flies & he loves.
Interrogation at the Hands of Rita Repulsa
So you’ve captured me. Unmasked me. Know my true identity. Yes. I’m Kimberly.
The Pink Power Ranger. Likes saving the world. Likes never giving up
& all things pink. Pink punches. Kicks. Dinozord the pink pterodactyl & love
of my life the Red Ranger. I’ll never tell you his identity, go ahead make
the ropes tighter. We’ll always be together, Pink & Red, close shades of Ranger.
Too hard to be with Non-Rangers, we put them in too much danger—
kidnapped, bait, even destroyed. Destroy them! you monsters like to holler.
& when we’re about to tackle you: Crush them! No one says kill or murder
or mutilate. Know why? Got to stay positive. You evil things need to, you keep
getting pummeled by us. We good guys have to, we keep almost getting wiped
out by you. Then at the last minute crushing you, I mean, at last saving
the world. Every week. Do I get tired of it? No. Maybe. This week,
a tiny, & that’s why I’m here, bound. Still, won’t let you destroy me
or the earth. How? How, when I’m your prisoner, & Pink, not Red or Green
or even Yellow? Going to get my morpher back from minion #2. Yes.
Telling you my plan. That’s how confident I am of it. Favorite part of the job,
these verbal jousts. Plus morphing into Pink, simply getting dressed. My costume
like any Ranger’s, except prettier & pterodactyl on the helmet. Helps me feel
positive. Powerful. There’s another popular word. Powerful. No one says
violent. No one says terrified, just a kid, just a minion, only feel safe inside my uniform,
my helmet. No one says too hard even hanging out with regular people, they’ve never
gone into battle, never had to destroy, week after week. Do you ever get tired?
We say, It’s morphin’ time! You say, Destroy them! We say, You’re toast! You say,
She’s escaping! Get her! I say, Too slow! & positively, pinkly smash in your face.
Playing in the Square
It could happen like this: we rush out of the station,
late for work, & find a small band playing in the square.
Been playing in the square all morning! they shout to us.
& with winsome smiles, urge us to join in, handing us
instruments. & somehow, we’re taking them—
an accordion for you, a fiddle for me.
& more people stream out of the station.
Been playing in the square all afternoon! we shout to them.
& with kind mischief in our smiles, call them
to join in, rolling out more instruments. & somehow,
an old woman with beautiful fingers takes up a clarinet,
a sad-eyed boy becomes our fourth bassist.
& people pour out. Been playing in the square
all evening! & we have instruments
ready. & we begin to spill, the square
stretching strange as an octopus. & the children vote
in favor of dancing, & dance. & somehow,
a stray bulldog becomes our main percussionist.
& doctors treat people without charge.
& mothers laugh with their sons.
& neighbors argue with passion, but no one goes hungry.
& some even fall dreadfully in love. We’re playing
in the square all night!
& the night joins in,
the moon in its borrowed suit of gleam,
the stars & planets finding their spots
a bit clumsily, foolishly—
they each take up their ancient instruments
& spin their amateur bodies, somehow remembering
the music, the movement.
Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and forthcoming spring 2017 from BOA Editions, Ltd. His latest chapbook, Kissing the Sphinx, is available from Two of Cups Press. His poems have recently appeared in Raleigh Review, The Poetry Review (UK), and the PBS Newshour weekly poem series. Chen is a Kundiman Fellow and a PhD candidate at Texas Tech University. Visit him at chenchenwrites.com.