Sam Cha

Photography by Christopher Woods

Photography by Christopher Woods

Photography by Christopher Woods

Photography by Christopher Woods

Photography by Christopher Woods

THIS POEM ENDS WITH AN EPIPHANY 

 

When Joe grabbed my Margaret Atwood book and started 

waving it around, it was too much for me. So I drop kicked him, 

 

which is why Joe and Nate Pilsbury followed me all the way home 

after eighth grade, circling me on their bikes, brandishing miniature 

 

Red Sox bats, hawking big green loogies that went splat, splat, splat 

at my feet. I could take you to the corner of Garden and Linnean, 

 

show you where the stains should be, the first between a line of black 

ants and a few fallen yew berries, the second five and a half inches 

 

from a stop sign, and the last two feet from the fire hydrant 

where Fernald Drive opened like a trap. When they ditched 

 

their bikes I stopped walking, tried to kick Joe in the windpipe 

and missed. He said: oh yeah, bring that karate shit you slant-eyed 

 

motherfucker. It was then that I came to the realization that I 

would never become President of the United States of America. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLAY IT AGAIN 

 

 

Beginning at the beginning is easy 

enough if you know. See to begin 

a story you need already 

 

 

to have a story, which is why 

in the beginning of beginnings 

Homer begins in the middle 

 

 

the story already like a horse 

or an apple or a city or an egg 

and so the story begins 

 

 

inexorable as cell division 

or gravity. By moonlight 

the story's soldiers creep out, 

 

 

light their torches, begin ending. 

There's no swan in my ancestry. 

My cities have no walls. So set 

 

 

me down on Seventh Avenue. 

I’ll end up lost in Islip. Drop 

me on the Red Line and I end 

 

 

staggering around in JP floating 

in whiskey, bemoaning the absence 

of masonry, the lack of definition: 

 

 

I don’t know my own story. 

A plucky hero, a happy ending, 

a kiss? Or the camera behind 

 

 

me, the hallways dimly lit? I'm 

always waking up in some city 

where I'm lost. And if I'm begin

 

 

ning to tell a story I can’t help 

it: begin is being with a twist, 

beginning is being with a stutter / 

 

 

a break / a boundary / a repetition: 

I am, I am I, and I am always 

 

 

walking in circles. This story is 

twisting onto itself. I'm always 

coming back to strangeness. But 

begin, is what I'm saying. Begin 

 

where you're lost. Begin: the sum 

of the vectors of the water molecules 

in your coffee. Yes, you, too. Begin: 

 

the wind always blowing the wrong 

way for lighting cigarettes. Begin 

with the wine bottle that slipped 

 

the first time you put your arm 

around her. Begin with her red 

jacket she gave herself for Christmas. 

 

Begin where movies end. Begin 

it with a kiss. Begin it with this. 

 

 

 

 

 

“A CHRONICLE OF EARLY FAILURE” 

 

we’d spent the whole night 

trying to get laid at axis? avalon?. 

me in my grey plaid quiksilver shirt 

 

& friend jared in birkenstocks and cargo shorts. 

 

clumsy no-step dance in circle 

temporary alliance of summer friends. 

each of us trying to look like we weren’t 

 

looking at everyone else to look like we knew 

how to dance to oonce.oonce. oonce.oonce. 

send me an angel, 

 

send me an 

aaaangel, right now. 

right naaaaaaooooow. 

 

 

& none of us able to buy a drink. 

 

 

& oh tall slim girl (ten years early, it could 

have been you) sitting lonely on a subwoofer 

lovely as a clove cigarette. 

you wanna dance, i said, (shouted). 

 

 

watched her lips.open, wet.read: 

 

 

no . what, i shouted. 

no!. oh, i said, and so on and so. 

no wonder, no wonder.we were full 

 

 

of blunder. landsdowne street stretched before us 

 

 

full of glitter and vomit.cigarette smoke 

and voices rising in miscellaneous profane 

hymn.and all desiring bodies, syncopated, 

 

 

moved away in that vast dance we thought 

 

 

we could have joined if only we could have 

memorized it like the phases of the moon 

or the periodic table or the first fifteen lines 

 

 

of the canterbury tales.while all around 

night’s swatch of black velour 

 

rippled, out of reach like everything else. 

 

i could have ripped through it, knew knife-

fight in my eyes.but now we found ourselves 

 

marching over the longfellow bridge 

yowling cherry poppin’ daddies songs 

 

& tossing embers into the charles, fervent 

in belief that here at last was the promised 

 

adventure, & here the sweet black 

toffee heart of dark. all around us the air 

 

filled with flawed mirrors: the wings 

of mayflies, the scales of moths, drone 

 

of cars and water, & the prudential center 

engorged with flickering light 

 

which skipped, shimmered echoing, across 

the water, to brush our eyes, to fall. 

 

 

 

 

 

ZANESVILLE


Zanesville animal massacre included 18 rare Bengal tigers
Owner of wild animal preserve freed animals, killed himself
(ABC News, October 20, 2011)


[...] the tigers went up. Bullets turned them into birds.
(Chris Jones. “Animals.” Esquire, March 2012)


Says right here in the Bible,
see. Isaiah thirty eight thirteen:
I waited patiently till dawn
but like a lion he broke all
my bones.
That’s how God
come to old Isaiah. Wearing
the skin of a great cat. I been
studying on that. What’s a man
to do of a twilit hour, the gold
God-beast come a-stalking you,
rough grace of Him rippling
on His flank like river water,
His great maw open like red
revelation, to bless and devour?


It’s both, understand? I thought
it was only the devil roaring
as a lion in the night, seeking
whom he may devour. Well, I
knows better now, don’t I. Was
the tigers teached me. Tigers,
and Terry. Who uncaged his god.
Waited till he saw it coming
for him at last, heavy, grinning,
white like a ghost. I can fair see
it now, smell the tiger reek thick
as woodsmoke. And the man
kneeling with a gun in his mouth
waiting for God to scent his blood.


When the call come to me
I was parked by the Y bridge.
My coffee was still hot. Burnt
my tongue trying to drink it
too fast. Should’ve known better
after forty year, but the town’s
quiet of a Tuesday evening.
Makes a body absent. Ain’t
much to do usually but just
set around, wait for some kid
driving his daddy’s truck too
hard and too drunk in the dark
and rain, like to bust through
railings straight down, scream


into Muskingum river clay. So
I slap a ticket on him. Hoove
him off to stir, he gives me shit.
But most nights not even that.
Gets so you take to watching
the river more than the road,
the waves sort of churning up
and holding, like wrinkles left
on the bed after you’ve tossed
and turned of a lonesome God-lost
night. When you watch a river
for forty year, you get to know
them waves. Quilt and weave
of them, how they change, slip


still stay the same, the way
who you are stays the same,
how a man can’t change, not
deep down in his clay. Only
death can change us. The sun
can set. The stars can come out,
and turn and turn and each wave
catch another star and snatch
it down river, till morning come
you’re fair dizzy with spin-light―
but then it all starts over again.
Life. And I'm still me, a sinner.
Daddy shot by a junkie, wife gone,
whole life just disappeart, swept


away like the stars in morning
water, those red hours after rain
when the Muskie looks the way
the Nile must have looked after
the first plague. Been dreaming
about that lately, see. River turned
to blood. All the fish dead: big
and small, spinners and chub,
gar, crappies and bluegill, bass
and sauger, shad and flatheads.
All of them floating. The colors
fading, black speckles and gold
going, going, like at an auction
when the hammer falls, sold!


to death or devil. Seems like
nothing is saved in this world.
Naught but blood that passes
into other blood and stronger
meat. Weren't it Abel's blood
that called to God from the dirt?
Weren't it Cain let it fall, unsaved?
And that were murder. He didn't
keep his brother's blood. Us
neither. Spilt it in clay. Played
deaf to its call. When Terry pulled
that trigger, he weren't aiming
to die. He meant resurrection.
His bones to rise in tiger flesh,


to be joined with blood of leopard,
goat and fatted calf in choirs
of rend and leap and roar.
You want to tell the world
what it was like to kill a tiger,
don't you go give them no
schoolhouse crap. A tiger
in the bushes don't nohow
burn. We hushed that choir
with bullets. We stripped them
bare, saw pearly gates of ribs
smashed with lead. Everything gold
was red. We killed gods like they
was men. We killed them dead.

 

 

 

 

 

MONSTER 

 

 

Frankenstein and his wife and his monster 

are eating dinner. Dinner is chicken, 

mostly. The monster’s stitches itch 

with salt and lemon juice. His left hand 

twitches. It's brand new. 's got that new 

hand smell. (Also, thyme.) A murderer’s hand. 

 

 

“I’m dying. It’s your fault. You’re a monster,” 

Frankenstein says. He takes a bite of mostly-

chicken, makes a face. Roots in his mouth. 

Pulls out a frog leg, spits. Blood in the spit: 

tiny droplets come to rest gentle and red 

on the tablecloth. “You call this food?” 

Frankenstein’s wife pops a fish eye 

against her tongue. “Don’t be silly, dear. 

 

 

It’s our fault, really. We spoiled him rotten. 

Now he’s septic. Heart’s a crocodile heart. 

Worms tunnel his brain. His tear ducts're expired.” 

She starts weeping into her tea. The tea 

 

 

darkens. Grease rainbows eddy on top. 

Soon her cup is full. She dries her eyes, 

composes herself, takes a sip. “Carcinogen,” 

she says. “Library of buboes. Cobra spit.” 

The monster stares at his hands. Left? Right? 

“Shouldn’t have picked that brain,” Frankenstein 

says. “I told you,” his wife says. “Shut your hole,” 

Frankenstein says. The monster curls his fingers. 

 

 

Into a—skull? No, Spider orchid, maybe. “I’d cancel 

that lightning in a heartbeat,” Frankenstein says. 

He picks a carrot off a gizzard with his fork. 

Something rustles inside the chicken, chirps 

like a wren. “How was I to know he’d turn out 

like this? All I ever wanted was to make a man.” 

Sam Cha recently completed his MFA in poetry at UMass Boston, where he was the 2011 and 2012 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work (poems, essays, fiction, translations) can be found at anderbo, Amethyst Arsenic, ASIA, banipal, decomP, Memorious, Paper Scissors, Printer’s Devil Review, and Radius. Also, in two anthologies: Knocking at the Door: Poems About Approaching the Other,and The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing. He's working on a book length bibliography/novel/epic/essay about (among other things) ammonites, Heinrich von Kleist, New Jersey, and dreams. He lives and writes in Cambridge, MA.