On “Code”

Dear A,

Something aches in varying textures of porousness, so I know the process of grief is like time itself. I read your poem “Code,” and something is both lost and found; after you passed into waters I could not reach, I asked where you were, over and over, and here you are, in the swells of the page. Listening close to the certain diameter of a feeling. Feeling the night. When we would talk, people said it was like speaking in code—half-sentences and strange phrases punctuated with blank space. We attempted to find a language. An interval of conversation could be equal parts silence and speech, and we would both let out a contented breath, relieved to have articulated and been understood. There is a membrane at the threshold between interiority and exteriority. Yours was made of rare, exquisite material; you spoke in poetry, wrote letters in poetry, gave gifts in poetry, and your poems are inscribed with your extraordinary thinking, an interior language attuned to the way a deformity in time could be something to hold. You loved the bravado of a sentence as much as its fragility. You loved your mother. You loved the world, clear as you were on its complexity and brokenness. The world was a joy; it was an emergency. You strove to care for your mother inside a system that failed over and over to care for either of you. You were never not thinking about your surroundings and the vulnerability of those moving through it. Listening close. The landscape of the world, so often a shape you could see / but not read. In this: pain, confusion, urgency—yet also tenderness, longing, the desire for intimacy. Didn’t we always pray our bodies and the body of the world as topographical notations leading you / to the river? In some ways, you were porous. In other ways, you were impenetrable.

Until one day,



Jennifer S. Cheng is the author of MOON: Letters, Maps, Poems (Tarpaulin Sky, 2018), which was named a Publishers Weekly best book of 2018; House A (Omnidawn, 2016), selected by Claudia Rankine for the Omnidawn Poetry Prize; and Invocation: an Essay (New Michigan Press, 2010), an image-text chapbook. She has received fellowships and awards from Brown University, the University of Iowa, the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. Fulbright program, Kundiman, Bread Loaf, MacDowell, and the Academy of American Poets.