Huan He

For I. Noguchi and the Interned

grown up the sky, take steady aim                  of the cloudswith pellet holes, Japanese maple                  holds firmonto its root, erect and fed                  by sheer will,in an exchange of oxygen for                  dignity, forphotosynthesis speaks only in                  laws of thisdesert, smiling towers smile with                  their eyes,bow down to soil, nutrient starved                  in all butits beauty—the man in uniform asks                  if this landis beautiful, deaf to a crowd of farm                  sprites whosee only the rouge make-up hidden in                  the burialceremony, Obaasan offers body to                  the Navajoin slow increments of tea ceremony,                  what morecan a body give? In sand whirls raised                  by a scuffle,feet chafe the earth, irrigation pipes                  rattle to marka life—there is life? The night rests                  in a dust bed,hushed asleep despite the dull thud                  of Nakayacutting firewood, a lullaby in a dream                  in a wish.

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Huan He is the author of Sandman (2022), which won the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Contest. His poems appear/are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, A Public Space, Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. Currently, he is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan and will start in Fall 2023 as an Assistant Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.

“The poems in Huan He’s Sandman are tender observations, evocative myths, and poetic pursuits that gently nudge readers to enter into an intimate dance with the world and ourselves. Through lyrical verve, astute intelligence, and evocative imagination, He’s poems are all at once dream songs and gentle lessons that subtly radiate poetics and politics from the mundane every day and prompts wonder. He’s poetry intervenes in the hum of the capitalistic world by offering a different kind of bestiary that draws from mythology, coming of age themes, and the Asian immigrant diaspora. Reminiscent of the poetic and political writing by Li Young Lee, D.A. Powell, and Maxine Hong Kingston, He’s Sandman marks the debut of a stunning new and important voice in contemporary poetry. He’s quietly daring and transformative poems teach us what we did not know we were hungry for, and these extraordinary poems make us see and feel anew.”
—Margaret Rhee, author of Love, Robot

“The dreamy world of Sandman is a sight to behold, lush with traitorous box thorns and water that can fix a father in time, or what He so aptly describes as ‘a bestiary/ of found things/ wounded.’ At the forefront of this fantasy-filled landscape is a queer boy whose escape into the world of the digital screen allows him to fully make sense of the historical violence committed against Asian Americans in the U.S. from the exploitation of Chinese American labor on the transcontinental railroad to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. This debut collection reminds me of how poetry can transform the limitations of mainstream historical narratives of Asian American life. By drawing on an illustrious imagination that paints the wonder and slow horrors of this world with excruciating brightness, He offers another way for us to think about the particulars of Asian American experiences, that which are soft, full of tender kinship, and open.”
—Muriel Leung, author of Imagine Us, The Swarm

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