“performing miss america at bushwig 2018, then chilling.” A Poem by Wo Chan

From the Collection Togetherness

September 26, 2022  By Wo Chan

breathe… some reddish dolphins (these bare feet busted),
tore through my capezios, unmoisturized, they join
your pilgrim black boot—oh my mammal…
the wide weekend’s long disclosure of drugs drawn

Article continues below

precious, depressed, high-function high anxious: 2018
gifts us fed dossiers on our stupendous thumbs-down needs.
you need therapy. i need money. we ditch our brains
unable to shred the fog of futures where civics, passion,

paycheck, and pleasure meet. two hours ago, we ran late through slashing
rain on Smith, tumbling you, your sister, (family) in the uber xl backseat,
helped me paste a glittering red AMERICA on my toilet paper sash.

we made it. early at bushwig, barely attended, i exploded the bouquet,
rolled nakedly on stage. i didn’t expect to make 14 dollars cash,
crumpled. i took mushrooms. time unclenched. i found you! sipping rosé

backbar, i was so happy. joy was flapping its wings in the dustbath!
you said i didn’t seem different but by then i could no longer bear violence,
however simulated. i wanted only to see soft things: your empath
friend, Our Lady of Paradise, gives guided meditations, undoing some violence

Article continues below

in synchrony, she sings under the megawatts of her holographic leotard:
new songs about her gender dysphoria.
my smile pancakes beyond the edges of my cuisinart
face “she’s so greeeaaaat” i say stretching like an accordion.

but, how useful are words now? by then i had lost the white pearls
glued on my décolleté—they dropped far like seeds from a seagull’s asshole.
thinking about a feeling is like photocopying a feeling. that scanning light is safe.
i brag my brain is fearless, yet i wear my heart smeared across my face.
waiting for the all-gender bathrooms with you, i just wanted to sit and melt
like kerrygold into your fur coat. you said it was real. i knew that. i felt it.


Excerpted from Togetherness by Wo Chan. Copyright © 2022. Available from Nightboat Books.

Article continues below

Wo Chan
Wo Chan
Wo Chan who performs as The Illustrious Pearl is a poet and drag artist. They are a winner of the Nightboat Poetry Prize and the author of Togetherness (2022). Wo has received fellowships from MacDowell, New York Foundation of the Arts, Kundiman, The Asian American Writers Workshop, Poets House, and Lambda Literary. Their poems appear in POETRY, WUSSY, Mass Review, No Tokens, The Margins, and elsewhere. As a member of the Brooklyn-based drag/burlesque collective Switch N’ Play, Wo has performed at venues including The Whitney Museum of American Art, National Sawdust, New York Live Arts, and the Architectural Digest Expo. Find them at @theillustriouspearl.

More Story
Jonathan Escoffery on Playing Out Some of His Worst Fears on the Page First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers,...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.