Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“Penelope Looks Back”

Book Excerpt: Focal Point

Penelope Looks Back

You know, I thought you were a fool,
and if I were lovely and clever,

I wouldn’t wait, idle behind shrouds
while my probably dead, definitely faithless,
irresponsible egomaniacal selfish manchild husband
goads vengeful gods and gawks at sirens.

Late night, I would go
toward a swaying ship of my own,
tiptoe around suitors’ bodies holding my breath, rage
against these wild dogs squatting in my house, rage
against their savage hunger, rage overpowered
by the threat to quiet flesh,

remember this threat
is nothing new.

Outside, I would lope
toward water, taste adventure
in the sea breeze, salt tongued bitter
familiar as yearning. I’ll kick through heavy sand,

watch the dark waves pull me
toward a grand and inconceivable somewhere,

anywhere at all. And then,
I’ll feel the wrench

of babbling child,
aging father

binding me
to shore.

[Read Chapter 16’s interview with Jenny Qi here.]

“Penelope Looks Back”

Copyright © 2021 by Jenny Qi. Excerpted from Focal Point (Steel Toe Books, 2021). All rights reserved. Jenny Qi’s essays and poems have been published in The New York TimesThe Atlantic, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, Rattle, and elsewhere. Qi, a 2011 graduate of Vanderbilt University, holds a Ph.D. in biomedical science from the University of California, San Francisco and works as a competitive intelligence manager tracking research in oncology.

Tagged: ,