cover image The Rupture Tense

The Rupture Tense

Jenny Xie. Graywolf, $17 (120p) ISBN 978-1-64445-201-1

The restless, luminous second book from Xie (Eye Level) weaves a web of family and ancestral history, aesthetics, and intergenerational trauma. Xie begins with a cycle of poems addressing the work of photographer Li Zhensheng, which depict the atrocities of Mao’s regime and create an atmosphere of dread that permeates the collection: “The disappeared./ The executed, slender backs to the firing squad./ How close Li had to stand to acquire their expressions, close/ enough he could smell the spume of blood and of brain matter.” Poems weave back and forth in time as she visits relatives in China in the present. The final cycle of poems is an elegy for the poet’s grandmother that evokes the ways that an absence can be omnipresent: “Nowhere am I rubbing a filament of 1958 against 2020// Nowhere is there a visual shock, two years sparking an omitted detail// Somewhere a generation of faces melts onto the last generation’s// Somewhere we keep attaching to the boundless unknowable.” Xie’s detached and precise language in the earlier poems echoes the oppressive climate of the Revolution and makes the more emotionally charged poems hit harder. This is a devastating master class in subtlety. (Sept.)