This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features an excerpt from a book-length poem by Valerie Hsiung. 


from Tell Me How It Makes You Feel 

What are you doing out there
by yourself anyway? Why
did you leave us? I think, today,
I could be
corrupted. And beautiful.
And sunshine. And grey.

Turns out when I needed to end a decade
I would just count backwards

Turns out what I needed was fix my toes, get Thursdays off
like you

When the time passes slowly we may think we’ve made poor
decisions in life. When it does not, we are prone to looking at
ourselves outside of our own burning bodies.

I, like you, long for an environment that will cannibalize us

When people say we could be so good together
they don’t only mean want to fuck? they also mean
sometimes at least forever Into the eye of the Storm—

I have the backstroke of a collagist though.

Don’t hope we’ll make it back to K town, I don’t
But this tradeoff literally blows. The lateness of this night
feels right tonight The lateness of this night is killing all of
the computers The lateness of this night is what’s making all
of your screens freeze up

She spoke to me like someone she had once been and then,
as though I had made her do it, treated me oddly for the entire
week after as though I had seen too much

If someone tells you to calm down
tell them
you can roll the partition up
and drive.

No, I don’t have any qualms about this, but I don’t have direct
experience building roller coasters either. Well… it happened…we
the switch over. She says, ok, so now can we go and cheer my
friend up

like the last Thursday of any month…

kiss it good,

hold. that. thought.





She fit herself under the carpet under the table when they
heard footsteps approaching and her hosts pretended to be
caught eating mid-bite.

You know the drill.

Because these are the documents we’re never to destroy.

Because these are the documents we’re never to falsify or
duplicate for forgery or for profit’s sake.

Because these are the documents that are subject to
interrogation mid-text.

Because these are the documents that prior to such and such
year have no record.

Because these are the documents that after such and such
year begin to have record, have linkage.

Believe no letters hold worth.

Believe letters have killed us.

Last words, last words—

In whose charge? In mine. In my charge. In ours.



great perpetrator
of my incandescence
do you follow these felonious instructions
did you write down the words you wanted to write down
you are my lucky clover
so you were not chosen
great perpetrator
i ought to give you a better platform
we ought to give you a better stage
in the cafeteria
great perpetrator
there was a student once who never spoke, sat in the front
row, then one day brought me a venison backstrap



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).