In his elegy for Yeats, W. H. Auden says that any poet, finally, “[becomes] his admirers // . . . scattered among a hundred cities.” Chang’s love poem plays self-consciously with the texts of other poets she clearly esteems. Her title, for instance, owes directly to Derek Walcott’s “Love after Love”: “You will love again the stranger who was yourself. / . . . . the stranger who has loved you // all your life, whom you ignored / for another, who knows you by heart.” Chang’s poem—with its simple diction, and rich, unpunctuated, expertly enjambed, fluid, and resonantly ambiguous syntax, all fully justified in a columnar field of language pressed to the left margin of the page—is haunted, too, by Frost, Williams, Glück, Ashbery, and others, but perhaps most strikingly defines itself, formally and thematically, in relation to the imperatives of Walcott’s strophic lyric.
Walcott’s speaker addresses, self-reflexively, a “you” (with whom the speaker might well be conflated), urging that subject to gaze into “your own mirror,” to love again the self that was subsumed for a time by a shadowy “another,” and to “[f]east on your life.” Chang’s poem is also triangulated, as poems about Eros must be, and she clearly shares Walcott’s desire to find or believe in the possibility of love after love has ended. In Chang, however, the “you” and “I” are distinct, and there is a “he,” as well—the former lover, perhaps. Meditating repeatedly upon whether or not this “he was a mistake” is one engine of the speaker’s meditation. But we learn that the you of the poem (a new lover, God, the self?—all possibilities are there) “[does] not believe in mistakes”—and soon the pronominal mesh (I, he, you, us, we) and Chang’s agile syntactical gestures serve to honor the complexities of the situation and at the same time clarify them. This passage, for instance—“why are we always / looking at the sky why / was he a mistake soon / the fields will give us / nothing to gather not / even the dark we love / autumn because nothing / has died yet I kiss the / heat out of your neck”—offers up an array of possible readings, turning the poem’s subjects and objects into one another everywhere, depending upon where the reader locates the volatile nouns, the verbs: Was he a mistake the fields will give us? Or will the fields give us nothing to gather, not even the dark we love? Perhaps we love autumn because nothing has yet died? Or because nothing has yet died yet I kiss the heat out of your neck? Again, all of these readings are contiguous and present and valid, informing one another emotionally.
It is as though Chang has taken the anguished folds of an intricate origami and opened them up to reveal the secrets in the convoluted pleatings of relationship (one thinks of Gilles Deleuze, whose wonderful treatment of “the fold”—Le Plis—in his Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, poses notions of interiority and exteriority that have been taken up in architectural and other theoretical contexts). Chang’s love poem (her field, her long scroll, her unfolded space) is both contained and yet invites room on the page for an else, for more, an otherwise, an unknowable. In the space of this poem, figure and ground, past and present, I, You, and He blur as the economies among these entities dilate, increase, opening continuously to new possibilities.
In the wake of lost love and our hunger for renewed/new love, should we turn our questions obsessively outward? Or should we, because we “know the other / way the world ends bring / the sky closer [and] look” not out, but rather within, for answers, for sustenance? Both, the poem seems not only to suggest but, in its linguistic embodiment, to achieve. Perhaps love, Chang puts forward, like the ongoing lives of poems and poets, resides not in a linear arc, but in a dynamic space and ever evolving continuum.