May 20–26, 2019
Kelsey Wang is a junior at Taipei American School. She is the head editor of her school’s literary magazine, Expression, and her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. When she is not writing, she can be found playing the piano, agonizing over math problems or drawing very badly. In general, she spends too much time daydreaming. She lives in Taipei, Taiwan, with her extended family. Her poem “Redshift” was selected by Tina Chang as the winner of the 13–17 age bracket in our Whitman Bicentennial Poetry Contest.
I wanted to reach out, perhaps
to touch, to prove you’re really there, but the distance of the earth’s axis
came between us.
It’s okay, if you don’t want to answer.
You don’t need to speak, I only want you to know …
Watch, the lovely and shattered pieces of the moon reflected in his eyes.
Spun-cotton threads of silver interwoven
like strings of fate. It’s strange, how I’ve
forgiven you but I have yet to find someone willing
to do me the same.
If I had told you this then, would you
have given me your world and carved a place
for me to belong, even though it was not what I wanted?
The sky was burning softly with a strange light like blood. Prayers
swallowed and spat out all twisted and wrong.
Apologies muttered the same way.
Do not think they meant anything, sweetheart, so just
light the burning stars in the sky as if in a dream.
We’re waiting, in this dream of deception and illusion, until
we meet again on a full-moon’s night without the stars. You’re just that sure
I’ll be there with you then, right?
I’m not hoping for justice. I’m not hoping
for an explanation. If it was made to be this way,
from the start, this singular and accursed fate, this
doomed and pompous martyrdom—
then so be it. If this be the taste of our conclusion. If this is
what the end was meant to be.
The kingdom of your heart, and in it, us.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
The title came to me first. I was learning about light and wavelengths in physics class, and our teacher mentioned the concepts of redshift and blueshift. Basically, to quote Wikipedia, redshift occurs when light undergoes a shift in wavelength when objects are moving apart or closer together in space. When the observed object moves apart, the wavelength of the light increases in the perception of the observer, and for humans, the light will shift to the section of the visible spectrum with longer wavelengths, and the light with the longest wavelength is red light, hence redshift. One of my friends, who likes to use everyday examples to remember scientific concepts, says the idea of redshift is similar to how human relationships change all the time because people are constantly getting closer or moving further apart, always changing. Something along those lines. That really hit me, and then I saw the Whitman Bicentennial Poetry Contest’s challenge to respond to Whitman’s question “What is it, then, between us?” and I thought about all the changes I have seen in my life—for example, the distances that now exist between people who were once as close as lovers—and wrote this poem.
What are you working on right now?
Right now? Nothing too exciting, I’m afraid—I have biology and math exams coming up in a few days, so I must worry about those first …
An idea has been sitting around in my head for some weeks, a poem about a martyr who slowly realizes the pointlessness of his death as he dies, but eventually comes to the conclusion that his sacrifice wasn’t completely in vain in the larger context.
Of course, there are a few poems sitting in my drawer, where nobody will be able to find them, that I hope I will one day find the time and the heart to edit and polish and maybe allow to see the light of day. But the day is not today.
What’s a good day for you?
A day where I can do absolutely nothing and feel no guilt about it.
I prefer days that are colder. Grey skies, clouds heavy with storm, the first drizzle pattering gently on the window. A cup of bubble milk tea within arm’s reach, some jazzy music playing on the radio, and a half-forgotten book on my lap. A good day is me spending an afternoon trying to explain Game of Thrones to my little brother and giving up when it’s clear he won’t pay attention to anything other than Pokémon. A good day—and this is going to sound clichéd, but it’s true—is any day I spend with the people I love, free from worries and obligations.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing?
Taiwan is my home. I’ve lived here my whole life, but I’m not limiting my options. Maybe in a few years, home will be somewhere else. I’ve visited the US a few times, but never stayed long enough to settle down permanently. My aunt, who’s not even an American citizen, knows more about living in America than I do.
Sometimes it feels like Taiwan has never changed. Time moves at a slower pace here compared to the US, I think. The shops that I frequented twelve years ago are still there, and the shopkeepers are on a first-name basis with my grandparents. Most of my neighbors first saw me when I was a toddler, though I see less and less of the elderly ones these days … I’ve heard that some have passed away. People come and go, but the landscape doesn’t change. That’s what I like about Taiwan. There’s something constant in it throughout all these years, a sense of belonging that’s always there. I spent my childhood in Taiwan. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to it.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
Not much time, I’m afraid. I think I visited Brooklyn when I was four or five years old. Digital photography wasn’t too advanced then. Aside from a few photos of places that I have no memory of visiting, I can’t really say much about my experiences or impressions. Brooklyn is very beautiful in those photos … the skyline at night is especially gorgeous.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
There’s not a lot of English poetry community in Taiwan, and the closest experience I had to one was when I participated in a NaNoWriMo write-in way back in November. That was a lot of fun! We got together, shared food and ideas, and encouraged each other to keep writing no matter what throughout the night. It was an amazing experience. I imagine a poetry community will be like that: a place where poets can support each other and help each other grow as writers.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I recently found this line from one of Sappho’s fragmentary poems:
Someone, I tell you, in another time will remember us.
The desire to be remembered, even if being remembered will be no concern to us once we’re dead, and we won’t get to hear what the world thinks of us when we are gone. And yet, people have memories, and create the beautiful and the grotesque, begging to be remembered. Nobody lives forever, and so people ask to be survived by their descendants. To be saved from the second death of forgetting. There’s something inexplicably sad about those few words that struck me hard. The countless faces that have been lost to history, the faceless mass of individuals who once had dreams and desires of their own, lying unhonored and unremembered in the dirt.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Before the year is over, I swear to finish War and Peace by Tolstoy, because I have a liking for the Napoleonic Era and also because of the challenge in itself. I promised myself last year I would finish the book, and the year before also, but I never went further than the first few chapters.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I try to read one book at a time, but in reality, I just read whatever’s at hand. If I forget my book, I just start another one. I try to plan out my reading in advance, but it never works out, so at this point I generally just have a list of books I wish to read and stop worrying about the order I do it in. I’m team physical books all the way. Note-taking reminds me too much of English class annotation quizzes from middle school, so no.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
An English poem in dactylic hexameter.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I’ve found the school library to be a good place to concentrate. The music rooms, soundproofed and hidden away in a remote corner, are my go-to place for reading and writing. I envy those who can spend their time on the commute on something productive. I get carsick the moment I try to read on the train.
One day I’d like to write a poem on the International Space Station. Or on any spaceship, since the ISS will be retiring in a couple of years.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the passage of the clouds,
And what I condemn to flame you lovingly resurrect,
For every glitter of holiness in me as good has been wrestled from you.
Why ever not? It’s a gorgeous place, and full of history. You can’t ask for more from a city.