Occasionally, we get the opportunity to share our thoughts on the outside work of our past contributors, as well as other projects that we think would interest readers of A cappella Zoo. To send something for possible review, especially new work relevant to magic realism and slipstream, email us at editorATacappellazoo.com.
Poems by Yu-Han Chao. The Backwaters Press, 2008.
Prominent though it may be, love is not the only thematic concern in We Grow Old. Culture, be it American, Taiwanese, or traditional Chinese, plays a huge role. The passage of time, as the title suggests, is another concern. These intersect in strange and unexpected ways, as in the poem “I’ve Seen”:
Although I can imagine the word “hump” eliciting some cringes from the audience, I found this to be a unique take on the May-December romance. Additionally, reader reaction to the punch line quality of the final sentence will likely determine whether Chao’s work is to taste or not.
The absurdity of “I’ve Seen” suggests that age and cultural disparity pose problems for the speaker and her mate. I am not an expert on Chao’s biography (nor would it would be appropriate to hastily conflate “speaker” and “poet”), but there seems to be a narrative arc in place that details the end of a relationship. Whether the beloved is expressing his preference for cigarettes over sex (“Better Than Sex”), prohibiting certain foods in his house (“Kimchi”), or chiding the speaker for her belief in ghosts (“A Raised Threshold”), the relationship is far from idyllic. Of the final two poems, “A Sign” makes this most explicit when Chao writes, “I took the loss of the watch as a sign that we should break up.” At the end of the last poem, “Which Line Is You,” she is “branching out, undisturbed by messy, ominous Xs.” The accumulation of details, culminating in those passages, is where We Grow Old really succeeds.
— Zach Buscher, poetry reader, A CAPPELLA ZOO