three histories

Romantic love can be a difficult subject to broach. Three new poems by Cadence Chung explore the most common yet ever-elusive subject of poetry, representing "an amalgamation of crushes, an invisible girl to address my desire to."

history of a body


there is a tiny mark on my arm from where
the silver-black nib of an ink pen bit into
my skin. i did it by the rubbish bin, in Literacy
when all the green folders were out and we
were all tonguing our way through words
in sibilance, sybilance, the curse of learning
a language that can never curve around the
watery shape of desire. the pen was given
to me by the boy i thought i loved in Year 5
back when it was all as simple as PE-shed
confessions, sword-fighting with cricket bats
and falling on one another, dumbstruck. i
tell people this now as a funny anecdote, but in
truth i think the mark might just be a freckle.
still, it’s the idea of it ‒ that somehow, through
enough violence, love might leave a stain.


an invisible boy follows me around at all times.
he’s there when i’m in the kitchen, and demands
a half of each sandwich, always taking the
bigger piece. he’s handsome in a no-nonsense way,
face flushed from football, arm around me
in the way you hold a kitten to stop it from wriggling.
i am meant to love him ‒ sneak over fences for
him, talk across balconies, carry my desire on
the East Wind, eulogise to him, make him fried
rice and eventually, live in a trendy little apartment
with him. i’d be his most prized trophy, his chinoiserie
delight. my eyes bright. hair tar-black. hands folded.
lips painted into tiny red petals.


an invisible girl follows me around too, but
i’m not allowed to talk about her.


a man on the bus calls me exotic, asks me where
i’m from. another man, uncomfortably close while
the bus jostles our knees together, calls me
beautiful with ferment on his breath. in them i
see the boy, mirroring their movements. i see him
grown up and rotted into bitter fizzing.
he takes both halves of the sandwich and bites
into them with sharp canines, like a wolf.


the invisible boy puts on a beard and presents
a philosopher’s conundrum. he shows me
Theseus’s ship and a trolley track. he asks
which is better: to be wanted, but only as an
ornament, or not wanted at all?


if my body is made of my mother and father
and all the bodies that have touched it
since, is it still the same ship?


the same ship, so far away from my
exotic motherland, the one that gave
me these bright eyes, this doll’s face.


i thought i loved her, because Tumblr
had told me that love was all poetry and
annotated books and buying each other
pretty, useless things and writing love
letters. i relished it all, of course i did. the
glamour of walking down the street in
matching skirts, holding hands. the
corners of our desires, perfect to cut into
squares and paste onto mood boards.
i loved being a lover / muse / wanted person,
more than i loved the wanting itself.


my grandfather, when the oxygen
tubes were permanent, still hid a
box of cigarettes under his pillow,
and i understood.

maybe i didn’t
at the time
but boy, do i get it now.


i’m sorry for writing about such things
in a love poem, but you have to understand
that when you love me, you are loving
a century of unquenched thirst and
unfound gold. you are holding onto a
girl anchored by long-gone ships and pearls
at the bottom of the sea. of eighteen lonely years
and every boy who wanted to have me
not knowing why i couldn’t love them,
not even when the invisible boy begged
me to, intertwining his face with theirs.


i am trying to be slow
with you
do you know how it is
when you leave the cap on something
for too long?

my brother watches these videos
of a man opening WW2 rations
and each can hisses open
with the green stench of botulism.


in your wet hair
your boyish sweatshirts
your dirt-brown eyes
chipped nail-polish
and smell of shampoo
i am trying to find
something that reflects back
some sense that i could
stain you

but i’m always so scared
of being wrong
of a confession being met
with quiet disgust



i am trying to be slow with myself
i tell my reflection she is beautiful
but she only turns away
so i can see the back of her head
where i didn’t quite brush away
the stray hairs.


in the Symposium, Aristophanes
talks about soulmates
how humans were made in bundles of
limbs, then cut in half, seeking each other

what a perfect speech
to cut out and quote
what a pretty way to frame
love: barefoot, dancing,
a youthful, transcendental,
universal thing.

but Socrates ‒
he says that if love
was already beautiful
then it would not seek beauty
if it was already youthful
then it would not seek youth

that love is poor
and ugly
and has no place to sleep.


what a wretched, unfortunate thing.


i suppose i have no choice but to let it in.

i mistake friendliness for something else and crush poems into dust

tell me you know what i mean
when words slip on my tongue
hear me try to say what my father was saying
when he bought clusters of grapes
that rotted, sickly, in the fridge
because i told him they were my favourite.
every time i open a book to get a snack
i'm met with a mouthful of sawdust, the bright
taste of it, the grains on my tongue.
tell me you remember the summer: that summer
when the horses ran dry over the racetrack
and me and my baby cousin squashed
mushrooms all along the empty stadium

gills in our toes when we came back for dinner
and spores in our eyes and ears.
it’s contagious, what i do when i’m wanting.
so contagious that you tighten your mask
and hold me at an arm’s length, ruff-necked
...still purring away.

it’s the way that the grass glisters on cold
mornings, and the way i don’t even notice
tiny scraps of beauty, anymore.

it’s in the horses’ panting, steam blooming from
their noses, then turning to snot.
if i were a flower, like all those old Greek tales
i would be the noxious lace florets of onion-weed
let myself be crunched and swallowed bitterly.

if i were a poet, i would be a ragingly sentimental one
but i suppose i don’t have to tell you that.

blazon to a crush

I’ve learned that the medieval poets would look
at a woman top-down: describing her hair, forehead,
face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, breasts,
then waist, then feet. In a way, I quite like it ‒ such
strict categorisation of a human, divided into neat
pieces and parts to marvel over, each limb a wheel
in a fleshy and cumbersome machine. But when I first
saw you, I noticed your chipped-polish nails, your shoes
with the laces fraying at the edges. I don’t tend to notice
the big picture, but find the little details. A freckle on the
edge of a lip. The shape of a crease on a neck. Each
highlight of sheeny skin that would take a painter
hours with a fine brush dipped in white paint, made so
effortlessly with nothing but sebum. Every time I get
all moonstruck like this, I look back and laugh, endless
cycles of myself laughing at my foolishness, only to
turn around and do the same thing. Someday I will not
remember writing this poem. Someday, you and I will
become a remember when…remember when…a slow
folding ostinato of abandoned sound. Someday I will
forget my own categorisations. I’ll go through the motions,
labelling tongue and teeth and claws, getting everything
out of order and only remembering how to forget.
I may find other yousto press down into poems,
taxidermy and categorise for my own records. I may
write a thousand sonnets and forget about the lovers,
but still have all these words on my hands.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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