New poem by Jean Vengua, “I Would Rather Not”

Jean Vengua writes about living in constant grief for both a present and a future that does not exist in the way she was made to expect, suggesting the kind of isolation online living creates.



I realize how tired of all this
I am when everyone I know
is dying to meet up over coffee and I
would rather not; would rather hide away
from a world, a country, a nation that I
no longer recognize. Would rather not extend
those long-developed familiarities
carefully groomed and storied through
apps and social media, and yes, even
face-to-face. Would rather not explore
how we can make it work with what little
we seem to have left of these days, hours, years.


Is this “depression”? What do I know
of depression, “a dumb optimist
for life” (so I’ve claimed), despite deaths
and shitty endings, despite anger, befuddlement,
tearing down and rebuilding a life several
times over, exhaustions and joys of a life lived longish.


Is this “grieving” according to what the experts
tell us grieving is? Some corner where you go
to weep, then say encouraging things to yourself
and the trees, and finally steel yourself
to march onward, armored in kindness?


Is it the loss of long-held illusion? Not the one
you’ve learned to deconstruct from “history”
cathedral by cathedral, block by block, story
by story, layer by layer (what good does it do 
anyway, to argue with the dead), 
but the illusion that schooled your cells
and muscles, guided your impulses
and hopes, shut down your perceptions
to help you not see through to what
may be just another illusion?


Still, you feel it coming apart, now, just as it fell
for others (no, not humans), eons ago. A rift
beneath your feet is opening, some dream
is pixelating, showing its ones and zeros
composing gray, broken teeth in an old skull.


Well, you know, it wasn’t so beautiful, 
that grand illusion, or even the potent potion
that infiltrates your cells. 


And this is where, yes— 
I point up to the night sky, majesty of endless 
stars, and where I dig a finger into the soil,
pull out tightly woven filaments: roots, veins 
of learned communication built by organisms despite
our blasted touch.


And yet I’m tired. It must be the waiting. We are not
used to waiting. We are not used to having
no answers. We do not know what time is. I
do not know what hour or day or year it is, though
I can count. I don’t know what questions to ask.
I look at my hands. I look at my profile image  
on the blue-light screen, not even sure I know
who I am.  
it’s time to wait.

Jean Vengua is a Filipinx American visual artist and writer, author of Marcelina (chapbook, Paloma Press 2020), Prau (Meritage Press), The Aching Vicinities (chapbook, Otoliths Press), Corporeal (Black Radish Books, 2019). In the mid-1990s, with Elizabeth H. Pisares, she formed Tulitos Press and published and edited the Debut: The Making of a Filipino American Film by Gene Cajayon and John Manal Castro, and The Flipside by Rod Pulido. Vengua lives in Monterey and manages programs for the nonprofit Asian Cultural Experience (ACE) in Salinas Chinatown. Her art can be found at her website and newsletter, Eulipion Outpost.

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