An Excerpt from Distance Sickness | Jenny Xie | Granta

An Excerpt from Distance Sickness

Jenny Xie

In memory of 唐彦文 (1932 – 1977)



Where to locate you in the interminable station?


Nowhere goes clean through the static of decades without hitting a nerve


Nowhere are you coterminous with the right coordinates, the red time stamp


Nowhere does the skin unbind along the longitude of the page


Steam of a childhood episode erodes your sense of sound


Grandmother hoisting the sticky infant on the hip while using the communal wash closet


Entire decade where the verb to want arrived posthumously


To relive is the snarl of description, worked over repeatedly in the mind


The girl vomits up pilfered blue gumballs and thin sugar paste


New hues wash into the scene, pop songs written in the first person


Unable to sharpen her eyes, she loses most sense of proportion and scale


The child commits to language and things calcify in separation


Nowhere does the color of your skin awaken into current


The city infected quickly, rash of glass and steel


Workers cropping up by the factory towns, waiting to be plucked


Hairs of every head in the family stirred by the tendons of the wind


A verb and its likeness collude to make time full of repetitions


One exam result becomes a way station, and then another


The rising appetite of youth rinses off in red


Heart failure and macular degeneration and something diagnosis can’t hang language on


Nowhere am I rubbing a filament of 1958 against 2020


Nowhere is there a visual shock, two years sparking an omitted detail


Somewhere a generation of faces melts onto the last generation’s


Somewhere we keep attaching to the boundless unknowable


Nowhere are you filling in the fovea of our eyes with calligraphy ink


Nowhere does the memory-image not quiver


Somewhere the shadow of your language catches on my ear


Somewhere the mouth spills with the solutes of memory, which congeal into something altogether different






Without provocation the subject dies twice. The first time,
in the murk of benign guessing: illness, poor health, medicinal
odors, an organ refusing the heed of a metronome. The
second, by her own hand, her eldest daughter jams this fact
into a sentence, and from there, an interminable release.



And so: distance is introduced, a bulb of epinephrine. Shifts
in the air pressure. A new verb eats through the pith of what-
came-before. Fugitive. Beyond all limits, where you reside.





:: Not the face, but translucent gray spots, as if the face has been drained through


:: Not the adhesion of hardship, but what gets seamed into desire


:: Not the closing down of an expression, but the fluidity of murky forms


:: Not the bitten edge of the border, but what walks through


:: Not the marks of language, but a springing into




Image © Rowan Heuvel



This poem is taken from The Rupture Tense: Poems by Jenny Xie, published by Graywolf Press in the US.

Jenny Xie

Jenny Xie is the author of Eye Level, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and a recipient of the Walt Whitman Award. She received the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in 2020.

More about the author →