Literary Hub Poem of the Week

May 6, 2015  By Wendy Xu

Wendy Xu’s new poem Notes for an Opening records the blur of self and country, memory and ancestry, identity and capitalism. Beneath the razor intelligence of her essayistic, discontinuous lines are not only daily injustices and aggressions but even a macro confrontation of corporations, governments and endless memes that hide behind her unsettling declaration: “My desire is to achieve, produce, consume, succeed.” That line, like the rest of the poem, excerpted below, is an opening we must interrogate.   

—Adam Fitzgerald, Poetry Editor



Notes For An Opening


Time is really interesting in an academic sense

In a lived sense it is the most boring thing in the world

What do I observe, internalize, “move on” from, regret, jest at, forgive, invite

My family gathers in the courtyard without me

They scrutinize my usage of the language I labored to acquire

“I hate to lose” is what I say to the Bank of America fraud consultant

I wanted to craft a more outstanding mode of engagement with contemporary politics

It doesn’t feel right to aestheticize received suffering

To get children to finish their dinners say “children in Asia are starving”

Is more like “at points my family has been starving”

I relate to my friend that third world factory work is not an abstraction

My family name has held the position for years


When the Foxconn worker commits suicide a catalogue of his poetry is released online

He describes a moon made of iron, a nail he swallows

It affects me because he is many people that I know, except they are not yet dead

He is not an abstraction

When I describe this to my friend, he is intensely interested in applying pressure to the context of the poems’ writing, how much the tragedy skews our appreciation of the craft of the poems themselves

I am unable to see how it is not all the poem

I begin to feel trapped inside the tower of white western intellectual consideration

I feel sick, and worse, “misunderstood”

I don’t want to be called the other female Chinese poet’s name anymore

Or if I am mistaken for the other female Chinese poet, I want a long apology in the moment of the recognition of the mistake

What I resent most is the punitive sensibility this is breeding inside me


Hunger for some immunity against desire

Which in itself is a ferocious desire replicating itself across screens

I can’t yet conceive of winning the prestigious award and leaving New York

My desire is to achieve, produce, consume, succeed

My desire perhaps is to be regarded while I undertake this process over time

Facebook status is a form now, invalid depending upon who you care to ask

Fear of the loss of my white allies

Fear of my white allies


A primal selfishness leads me to record this in writing

I use the language and diction of my historically visible oppressors

I too colonize the femininity of the white open page

He loves to exist in the historical moment there beneath the red “Pepsi Cola” sign

Corporations aspiring to humanity

I lingered in the nail salon because my manicurist was also from Shandong and expressed an interest in speaking with me in my native language

Socio-linguistically it is not my native language

Considerations of: what is my “native” language

She paints my nails Daydream Pink

And the question of where and among whom do I feel most unabashedly myself

That is, where am I most contrasted with others?

An immigrant dreams of total assimilation as both fantasy and nightmare

The abstraction of my self-remembrance


On June 1st 1989 I was a baby carried on an airplane away from Shandong, China, the place of my birth and it was later related to me that during the flight I exhibited supernatural calm, a sense of devotion (submission) to the isolation I would later experience

I have mythologized it to the point of memory

Golf masters do this alongside prisoners of war: intense visualization over time seems to the body as good as lived experience

The imagination is, or is not, an abstraction

Three days later protestors are massacred in Tiananmen Square and the irony of the name of the place seems too cheeky, too perfect to talk about

“The Gate of Heavenly Peace”

My father participated quite fully in “brain drain”

In my adult life I throw up on public transportation

I write “false correlation,” on the board and slash it red

Adults at the time say there was something in the air and mean it as fully abstract though it is fully literal

What was in the air?


The face of the Foxconn worker haunts me in its eerie resemblance to my father’s

Suddenly laughing over the way “activism” makes us feel in the midst of disrupting civil activities, transit, the generally uninhibited movements of the public

This depresses me

Have you ever put cucumbers in your water, it tastes exactly the same

To be critical here of withholding information: on the interstate in New York City someone spoke the phrase for “Hello” to me in my native language when I could not have been further from the native location of my language

Stay with me

I am trying to dissect the moment of my erasure

He stepped down momentarily from his visible trajectory into mine and inhabited my native language with his entire being

So then, I was pushed from it?

Or I was pushed from it into a second space, not knowing here what the ideal metaphor for this space is, was I drowning or was I hanging from a high place, where for brief moments I still might have been saved


You open the document

You highlight what is disagreeable in red, you cut it from the page

You make no incision

You agree strongly with the content but not with the manner of its dissemination

The joke of it was how much it cost and this translation into hours labored


When he says “I can’t live like this anymore” to what extent should we speculate about the distance between this statement and its material action

People say about others they are able to “go there” easily, the physical location of “there,” quickly

I say I feel he is there and I should make all efforts to retrieve him

They say it is not an indication of meaningful potential for death

With some people by circumstance of your meeting you share a “certain something” which you must work with each subsequent interaction to undo

My friend says if men are not trying to kill us they are trying to kill themselves

What a luxury to live with such potential for action

I express my jealousy, do not confuse it with disdain

Impossible then to locate the burial site of feelings within the body

Nor am I convinced that the seductiveness of reverence for the body is productive

Nonetheless I give myself over to it

Nonetheless I see in him such “material potential”

Some words here from the speaker last night: your goals for me are oppressive

The roses outside were all pink slumped over in a bucket where I regard them and take their picture

What is recorded, how they once were, might have been


Where you cut it, it grows there double

Where you splice the tender shoot sprouts (in its exact location) a twinning of branches

This is so beautiful and non-human I don’t know what to say

Wendy Xu
Wendy Xu
Wendy Xu is the author of You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013) and several chapbooks including the forthcoming Naturalism from Brooklyn Arts Press in 2015. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, POETRY, Guernica, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. In 2014 she was the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Xu lives in Brooklyn and teaches writing at CUNY.

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