Two Poems by Jennifer S. Cheng


Anthropology of the Body [1.1]

If temperature were a way to know the world, then
waning heat, half-heat, these would be names for the body in progress

and not merely words for the time of day. If texture were our
primary experience, we might have ways of calling ourselves

to others. I would know the angular purpose of an object, its porous
surface, and the force that perforates us together.

This is how we shape the world around us: we contour our skin against an edge

we are touching. We yield our bodies to the imprint of another, and it yields
something back. When we were children, we thought our bodies
were for exploring things of the earth: soil, water,

hard surfaces. When we were children, we thought out skin was a tool
for knowledge. We spent hours bathing in the tub, in the park sinking
our fingers into piles of leaves, buckets of sand. We did not know

the impermeability of certain surfaces, how certain boundaries
are set like stone.





Anthropology of the Body [1.2]

Our body is a metaphor for something
unknown. I hold a cup of ice in my hands, winter intertwining fingers;

suddenly you are a lover I must set
aside, a body too disparate from my own.

A woman holds sugar on the tip of her tongue, and her child
calls her sweet. We are reckless

with our knowledge. I step into the shower, pour cold
water all over my limbs. I pinch my skin to emulate
a shiver. If Freud was right, and the mind

can absorb the structures of the body, then I might take your hand
to these scabs and scars, say boundaries, walls,

say if you could divide into a wrinkle.





Jennifer S. Cheng is the author of a chapbook, Invocation: an essay (New Michigan Press) and is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a Kundiman fellowship, and an Academy of American Poets Harold Taylor Award. Her writing appears in Tin House, AGNI, Web Conjunctions, Mid-American Review, The Collagist, Sonora Review, and elsewhere. She lives in San Francisco, where she is a founding editor of Drop Leaf Press.