Adrienne Chung

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Adrienne Chung

21st Century Pizza

I was seduced through a window one night
by a man in a large black headset, miming a waltz
in an empty gaming parlor. Rain fell
as I huddled under the frame like a stray,
waiting for a world to open
through a door.

For five minutes, I could work for free
in a sandwich shop, a pet store,
or a pizzeria, which I chose by accident
as he placed the headset onto me,
tightening the straps and asking
if I was OK.

I was OK, but possibly unprepared,
something for which I am prepared due to a life
of frequent relocation, general misfortune,
and poor choices in love…

There was a pizza shop on Geary
that gave children little balls of pizza dough
to knead to pass the time,
clumps of dampened flour

soft as actual angels
in my hands.

From that day on, I craved
its supple pliancy, how it yearned
for the empty spaces
between my fingers.
I dreamed of its meat, its sweetness
in my mouth.

Years later, when I came home,
no one remembered such a place, dark and narrow
in my mind’s eye, dusted in the fine flour
of memory’s electric powder.

There was no photo, no witness,
no evidence to burn
because nothing is real here
except me.

Adrienne Chung reads “21st Century Pizza”


Fragment of a Vessel

It was summer. We were young,
or at least I said I was, though I wasn’t,
and hadn’t been for years. I thought

I wanted someone young, a new love
to breathe into me another chance at living.
I wanted to feel. I wanted more time.

Out the window, a red bird. A white cloud.
A wedding party exiting a low building,
the bridesmaids in dresses of aquamarine.

The world a gilded box of jewels.
I couldn’t take it, couldn’t stop crying
on the bus. Why are we different

from the rest? That night I recited
to a roomful of strangers a poem
about a younger me, an older heartbreak

from a time when having a job
still seemed like fun. The next morning,
I stood in front of a seventeenth-century still life

of dead geese, cabbages, a quince
arranged in what the curator called
almost mathematical harmony.

Next to it, the decapitated head
of St. John the Baptist on a golden platter.
I was whelmed. I couldn’t think.

I was despairing over someone
who said he saw no future with me.
Why did I even ask?

I walked through galleries
of moody photographs
and marble statues, stopping at a bronze shard

encased in a podium lit from above,
my face reflected in the glass.
“Fragment of a Vessel,” it read.

In the next room, I took a picture
of an impressionist painting, newly moved
by the sentimental strokes of pink and blue

churning against the sunset about to fall
over the city. I followed the light
toward the atrium, low din of footsteps

and chatter growing nearer
and clearer, like the rustle of a new lover
stirring awake beside me in summer.

Adrienne Chung reads “Fragment of a Vessel”



My mother lives in hotel rooms amidst
unopened boxes of perfumes and creams
and purses, the shrink wrap glinting off her face
like glitter on a child’s. She sleeps among her towers
of Chanel, Celine, McQueen—she has no other lovers,
only me who used to call her. Now I get
no answer. The phone bills pile higher.
On Christmases she gave me plastic bags
of drugstore loot: dishwashing gloves in pink
and purple, blue nail polish with a glimmer.
I wore the gloves as soon as I returned
from school each day. This was how
I loved her: devotion to a specter.
She loved midnight runs to Walgreens,
leaving me alone and frightened.
Now I’m thirty and still fearful
that a man will come at night
but I don’t blame her for my fear of sleep
and dreams without a mother.
Mornings I’d awake to bags of booty
at the door. I can see her drop them
in a hurry, evade one mirror then another,
run to sate her shame with pills which put her out
before I saw her. I have no memories
of this mother. All I wanted was a mother.

Adrienne Chung reads “Duty-Free”


Adrienne Chung is the author of Organs of Little Importance (Penguin 2023), a winner of the National Poetry Series. Her work has been published in The Yale Review, Diagram, Joyland, and elsewhere. Based in Berlin, she teaches at the Berlin Writers’ Workshop and is a poetry editor at Sand Journal.