Most striking at first, at least for this listener, about Kirsten Shu-ying Chen’s “Most Animals” recording was the calm, bright, confident contemplation of mortality present in her voice. Her vocal qualities signal the intimacy of a shoulder-to-shoulder conversation—on a park bench, maybe, taking in clouds, birds, trees, people in every life phase, definitely dogs—with a close friend or fellow artist, someone else who also appreciates our species’ unique awareness that each life has a pending but unknown due date (unlike most animals). In the recording, as in the poem’s syntactical openness and levity, we get the sense death weighs as much in her world as it would on a park bench on the moon. “It’s hard to say why we’re here”, she says, three-fourths of the way through this poem, the first piece in the second section of her collection light waves (Terrapin Books, 2022), a book giving an account of her mother’s life and death as a spectrum of light projected through her entire being. It’s hard to say why but “Maybe compassion…” / maybe “the leaving, a much brighter tale—”. And the way Chen says it gives this listener hope: maybe what happens after life for each of us will be different than we’d supposed and fused with light.
Kirsten Shu-ying Chen is a poet and writer based in New York. She is the author of light waves, published by Terrapin Books in May 2022. Chen has been shortlisted for the Disquiet International Literary Prize and the Grist Pro Forma Contest, among others. Her work can be found in Bodega Magazine, Lantern Review, Seventh Wave, and elsewhere. www.kirstenshuyingchen.com