Wider than the Sky
In her second book Wider Than the Sky, Nancy Chen Long grapples with the porous and slippery nature of memory and mind. Through form and content, the poems in the book mimic memory, its recursive and sometimes surreal qualities—how recalling one memory resurrects a different memory, which then jumps to another memory, and then another, each memory connected by the thinnest of wisps—as well as memory’s mutability—conflicting memories among family members, changes in the collective memory of a society, a buried memory that is resurrected when one catches the scent of a forgotten perfume. Wider Than the Sky explores the role of memory in identity, how the physical aspects of the brain impact who we are, and how who we are—both individually and as a society—is, in one sense, a narrative. These poems delve into the mind’s need for narrative in order to make sense of the world and how a society uses stories and myth to help its members remember a lesson, a preferred behavior, or their position in the social scale.
Reading Wider than the Sky is to encounter a world and a sensibility. With each poem firing as precisely as a synapse, interwoven into one shimmering neural net, Nancy Chen Long’s collection is a richly varied, acutely embodied exploration of how “our life is what our thoughts make it.” Eidetic moments, as vivid as the “star-nosed mole, / its many-fingered nose –a fan of proboscises” ground these poems where a child, finding a perfume bottle that once belonged to her grandmother, is “Suddenly…eating fruit in my memory, faint yellow slivers of stars, / juice running through my fingers.” The universality and specificity of human experience is profoundly felt in these metaphysical poems, interrogating and celebrating how being persists, “forever/home, forever foreign,” despite subjective and collective erasure –its aberrations, its genetic inheritances, its “scorched language,”— “creating/ourselves as we go.”
—Rebecca Seiferle, author of Wild Tongue and Bitters
Empathic polymath Nancy Chen Long considers wide-ranging topics—from neurology to Emily Dickinson, from the big bang to Bible stories—as she interrogates the role of memory in the formation of our narratives and of our selves. Long portrays fleeting scenes from childhood onward—scenes which momentarily shine a flickering light on life’s big topics: the links between story and belief, forgiveness and biology, society and violence, language and loss. The reader experiences this unforgettable book in the same way a memory is experienced—as incomplete images infused with emotional wholeness, images that swell and recede and leave us changed for having been momentarily immersed in the intimacy between past and present that we call memory.
—Jessica Goodfellow, author of Whiteout and Mendeleev’s Mandala