Poetry: preparing an elegy by Jenny Shen

Jenny Shen’s power in “preparing an elegy” rises as invitation to familial intimacy—the poem rolls forward like a stream of consciousness and captures a mother and her daughter in a fragile moment, in the kitchen, in a conversation with so many, many things unsaid.


preparing an elegy

i ask my mother whether it’s time
++++++yet to start planning the funeral

she tells me she buried us decades ago
++++++lays lillies on the tombstone every few years

but is no longer in mourning instead
++++++she slices papayas open, bathes

her hands in shiny black seeds
++++++waits for her skin to prune, dried

wrapped in rice paper crinkled
++++++crow’s feet splayed out to deliver

messages tied up with red
++++++& white twine across any ocean

that will have her and by have
++++++her i mean shoulder enough salt

to hoist her to cognates bobbing
++++++on a clothesline, i ask her which ones

she’s plucked, and she swats the whole
++++++thing down, unpins starchy fabric

donates it to someone who has never
++++++had to cauterize accented tissue gaping

in the way it invites pathogens
++++++even while it’s trying to heal

i joke that she has empty nest syndrome
++++++she says there were never twigs nor

lichen to lay shelter at heights she’s only
++++++dreamed for, burial grounds only need

shovel, a stubborn foot to plunge
++++++it into earth, maybe a thrumming

memory to upturn the soil, keep it
++++++warm for parcels of dried tea leaves,

soft jasmine rice singed at the words
++++++embers of letters stink of california ash.

put your white dress away, she scolds
++++++your joss papers, stacks of ghost money

take whatever ring you want, she goes back
++++++to dicing discs of garlic and the conversation

is over

Jenny Shen

Jenny Shen is a middle school science teacher in New York City and has been writing poetry since she was a middle schooler herself. She is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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