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.
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.