Untitled Poem (Frances Chung, 1979)

Frances Chung was a Chinese-American poet, born in New York’s Chinatown in 1950. She began publishing poetry in various journals during the 1960s, while working as a math teacher in the New York public school system, but unfortunately died in 1990 without having ever published a collection of her work. After her death Walter K. Lew compiled her manuscripts and published them in 2000 as Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple: The Poems of Frances Chung. I have not yet read that collection, but there was a poem of hers I particularly liked in the 1979 Sunbury anthology American Born and Foreign, so I am sharing it here.

do you remember when it seemed the whole world
was closed
on shrimp-gray days
the rain held us in
we saw Lincoln Center from a bus
elegance was a Greek restaurant
the New York Times was too big to fold
with too many dictionary words empty crosswords
they never reporting the killing
down the street
the clothes they advertised were unreal too
who lounged who wore bathrobes
who had a dining room
everything in life being guesswork
cooking without teaspoons
eternal windowshoppers
we women were sometimes like children

I like it for itself, the stream of images saying something clear and a little bitter without being direct, and I like it also that it connects to me; I still have many days in which, “everything in life being guesswork,” I feel that child’s confusion despite my adult self.