Skip to Main Content

Anne Truitt, Mid Day, 1972, acrylic on wood, Gift of Harry and Margery Kahn, 1975.44.1

Mid Day

Victoria Chang

A square table put out just for me.
In Emily Dickinson’s bedroom. My
back to her dead mother in the
other room. My front to her bed.
Lace curtains remind me of women
before me. She lived until 55. Anne
Truitt until 83. I am 52, prowling at
the edge of revelation. How Truitt
painted the bright red horizontally,
then vertically to smooth out the
eyes. Then sanded down the tears
that came through. How she
wanted what was left to be even,
burnished alive. I imagine her head
on the bed, tilted past death, her
dashes in my direction. Who gets
to speak, who gets to brush.
Whose tendons of mind are visible.
Who gets to scratch. Who gets to
sand. Who gets to spend our days
inside thinking, gnashing our lives
into 10-foot tall rectangular
thoughts. I run my hands through
my hair hoping to leave behind a
black strand. An unquestionable
strand. Ineligible split end. How
strange to be in this room
demanding awe. To sit down and
write a poem where I could never
have been. On the other side of
the country, at the same time,
Chinatowns were burned down.
What am I to do with all these
seams. The world that keeps
growing back. The women who are
adjuncts to the world. The world
that is unfaithful. What if I am no
longer in awe of the stiff light.
Expiring rims of time, smoothing
only itself. I had an hour and now
my time is up. She’s gone and she’s
gone. Still I am here pressed
between her and hurt, between
the cross-talking ghosts. Taking
what they’ll give. Her dead mother
behind me. My dead mother
beyond me. All the beheaded love
mixing at noon in red. After others
die, where do we put our sadness?
After we die, where does our
sadness go?

Please note: We have tried to preserve the formatting of poems, but some devices may distort how text appears. Read the poem in its original formatting here.

Victoria Chang

The Bourne Chair of Poetry at Georgia Tech, director of Poetry@Tech, and poetry editor of the New York Times Magazine (2022-2023). 

September 15, 2023