January Lit: "How to Forgive 100 Years After a War" by Jess X. Chen

January 21, 2016

Illustration by Jess X. Chen

For the first lit feature of the new year, we're pleased to present a haunting poem by Jess X. Chen that beats with lust, intimacy, and destruction.

-- Karissa Chen, Fiction & Poetry Editor

How to Forgive 100 Years After A War

At the mouth of "yes,"
we climb under the sheets.

When our hands touch, 
we cross into a new time zone.

Your shadow falls upon my face,
and the body of my motherland 

      is reduced to ash.  

A hundred years ago, you were
a bullet         passing through 

my mother’s body.     A colony 
of moths–soaring into my country, 

yearning only to set it on fire. 
In the glow,      we mirror 

the battalion & the war woman, 
divided by the thin membrane

of a lifetime. Despite history, 
our bodies know: 

      to live is to strive toward the flame.

Today, we are moths soaring 
toward each other, yearning only

      to become lantern. 

As we burn, in silence, toward
the sky, I hear no gunshots. 

No flames clapping as villages burn 
to the ground. I unpin our lives 

from history & press my ear 
to the dialogue of our blood.

My body is ready to forgive 
what my past cannot.



Jess X. Chen

Jess X. Chen is a film director, artist/activist and nationally-touring poet. After the Cultural Revolution, her parents immigrated from rural Nanchang, China to Canada in the late 1980s. Her work exposes narratives of colonial trauma, diaspora and collective protest by connecting the violences between the queer and colored body and the body of the Earth. Her art and films have been featured in Asian American International Film Festival, The Huffington Post, and at the Asian Cinevision Diversity Screening at the New York Times.