Jennifer Chang, “Ceremony”

For the last few weeks, I’ve misread Jennifer Chang’s poem. I’ve been reading the last stanza consistently as “I had love. A blue kite untwisting the sky” instead of I had a love. With “I had love” in mind, I confess I missed the possibility that this was about a death. I almost felt like the poem could have been about a wedding.

Maybe (to be really generous to myself) I was subconsciously trying to see how our sense of love and loss works, how exactly both are tied together. I don’t think it’s as simple a formulation as “love includes the possibility that it will be lost” or “loss can only be felt because of love.” My misreading, I think, points to something more complex: What if you could see the whole of love in loss, or the whole of loss in love?

Ceremony (h/t @themoneyiowe on Twitter)
Jennifer Chang

I can't say which
cloud cut open
the hill. Or why,
walking, I can't
reach the sky. Virginia
is not east.
          The hill
gives no slack, no
shade, so I rise
to light. I am quiet
and won't
squander words
to make what's 
false true.
          I had
a love. A blue 
kite untwisting
the sky.

An upward march does no favors for articulating what is immediate—I can’t say which cloud cut open the hill. Or why, walking, I can’t reach the sky. A sense of numbness, of distance emanates from these lines. This already feels like a ceremony performed for the dead. But there’s an otherworldly reaching at play here, too. Clouds cleave the hardest realities; we’d like to reach the sky and it almost feels like we’re doing so. I don’t want to posit a facile interpretation and say that feelings of loss and love are impossible to distinguish. But it does seem language reaches in trying to find the precise distinction we might need to make sense of our own lives.

Virginia is not east—no, it’s onward, upward, into a space where grief or something entirely other can dwell. The worst happenings seem to coexist with the highest possibilities. But what is highest? Ascension only gives a direction, not a location. The hill gives no slack, no shade, so I rise to light. I struggle, I ascend, but where am I? I am quiet and won’t squander words to make what’s false true.

I’m in a space defined by loss. No words will bring back a beloved. I rise to light in acknowledging the immensity of grief, in playfully reaching with their memory. I had a love. A blue kite untwisting the sky—around the axis of a kite, the sky itself is no longer immense, but opened, unlocked, untwisted. With this poem, I started by wondering how love and loss relate, and now I find one, just one, peculiar thought about that. Love does have a playfulness specific to it. It does not ease loss or suffering or regret, but can let loss be an opening in which those remembered can be treasured, against the hardness of it all.

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