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Memory’s Material

Wendy Xu ’14MFA writes about identity, memory, and intimacy in three poetry collections, most recently The Past, from which this passage is excerpted. Her previous book, Phrasis, was named one of the 10 best poetry books of 2017 by The New York Times Book Review. She is assistant professor of writing at The New School.

Xu writes, “‘Notes for an Opening’ is a poem that uses autobiographical material but pushes against narrative neatness. Instead, there is room for all kinds of discoveries, new to both myself and reader, room for details to float more loosely on the page and exhibit a magnetization to other details that they perhaps didn’t have contact with ‘in real life.’ This also makes it a performance of the fragmented experience of remembering.”

From Notes for an Opening

Wendy Xu ’14MFA

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?

Read the full poem at Literary Hub.