From Issue 16: "Disorientation" by Jessica Yuan (Poetry)

Reading time: Approximately 3 minutes

I was pulled into Jessica Yuan's poem by a first line that is both simple and complex, a duality that the poet maintains throughout the work. In "Disorientation," the reader sees an urban city of large scale but it is presented through a personal lens. For me, this push and pull struggle of the narrator to be an individual in an anonymous landscape, full of textural details, is familiar: To be both alone and in a crowd, and look for oneself in the middle. 

As her editor, I'm happy to say that Jessica Yuan's poem "Disorientation" will be included in this year's Best New Poets anthology. 

Let us know your thoughts by posting over at our Facebook page, or reaching out to us on Twitter. And as always, thanks for reading!

Mare Heron Hake

Poetry Editor




By Jessica Yuan


If I make it this far. 

If I make it home to the sublet 

with styrofoam paneling the shower 

and five women hiding the hotplate.

If I make it past the crowds 

most like me, drinking away

their weekday nights on the strength

of the dollar. If I make it through,

dodging the long shadows of men

before they touch my shadow. 

Thick asphalt grains biting into brick

on a hillside I cannot name.

Sidewalk patched and flattened 

by whoever owns the nearest edge. 

After the tight history of the center 

are the peripheries exposed,

streetlights hard on the avenue

wrapping the slope then piercing

straight through the roofline.


He saw me eating a peach

at the base of a monument

covering its history for the evening.

He offered to drive me home 

except he drove onto a highway 

I had never seen and over a river 

I had not crossed. The city spun 

out from the tight nest of the center, 

after the alleys straighten into boulevards

and windows bloom full-faced.  

He drove down to the fourth 

sub-basement garage and stood me up

on the tenth story, my highest point 

that summer, everywhere I crawled 

at ground level fading below 

out of light. His window 

had everything but the way back.

So I did. So I did it. I had no map

and he took my map. 

He handed me his business card 

and he drove me home after.


Until I emerge from the bridge

marked by a tulip where the stairs 

stiffen into ladders below the moon. 

I passed the archive and its courtyard 

vaulted over with yellowing glass.

I crossed the valley paved 

from brick to granite, the season

from cherries to peach. I passed 

the courtyard for peacocks

and courtyard for chickens.

I passed the wide smooth scar

of concrete over the tunnel beneath.

I wore my face like a printed shroud 

scrimmed over the scaffolding 

of a monument’s renovation. 

When the monument emerges, 

who keeps the shroud? My shroud 

is tired and has become the real thing. 

I keep it trailing behind me.



reprinted with permission of the poet

Jessica Yuan had this to say about her work, "Disorientation."

I'm interested in the way we remember and envision space, re-creating an image of the world through a cluttered pile of scenes and signs. I wrote this poem years after a summer spent working in Istanbul, when distance gave me the chance to look again at my mental map of the city and what shaped it. Beneath that map was a current of distortion, of convoluted trajectories that wound through loss and lostness. The poem explores how our ability to orient ourselves, to navigate the world, to feel secure in our movements, meets the upheaval of personal distress.

Jessica Yuan is a poet and Kundiman fellow, and is currently earning her Masters in Architecture at Harvard.