Kenji C. Liu

Empire strikes



Citizens of the civilized galaxy, on this day we mark a transition. Billions of helpless factors wind us into blinding, black-gloved sparks. The pain constantly beautiful, omnipotence ripped by a giant jedi abyss. Great ears of the people stolen, deathly half governors, and bureaucracy, that unstoppable depletion. Nation of my gracious physiognomy, once we prospered entire, every fiction time! Our last infrastructure collapses black, we sink wicked, a feeble station, infused by a never-ending crawl. Our regions are semi-darkness, with scarred and weak edges, groans along our peace borders, ripped, scattered, dimly white. Against the reaped verdict, stormtroopers ignite, my dark hood star attacks, lord I. Your unbearable boy emperor—my force fictitious flashes out, unstoppable bleed. My carnage grown from exaggerated disrepair. Seven-foot-tall in the well of a mob. Towards a cold room, our body staggers.

Letter to Chow Mo-­wan


Dear Mr. Chow,

Cherished seed. A sesame kiss, and you mend the distance between us. That deep dissonance. When will our smoke overlap again なの? Together we are a pair of lonely questions, differentiated, two who whisper open a category. Plural, argus-eyed. Divination is a meaningful mesh. We call us home, multi-capillaried. We promise a beautiful object. A rare orientation わね.

Image of music notation

Unthreatened can still be afraid. No injury is respectful. This is because the caress is not a simple stroking; it is a shaping. I am obsessed with the feeling of a house on fire. Do you agree なの? I’m never going to end in a field of reason. Truth can’t go in the gaps. We are fool things わよ, precisely alive, mountainous.

Image of two rows of music notation

Descending, throttle early, savagely

frankenpo (for Prince)

He’s a beautiful bird again. Desperately funk, tornado gorgeous, heart thick with furious glide, and me his dessert. A conspiring body of heavy love, a whole dusk package. He sits and moistens, a ripeness in him, black as sobs. Glisten he rises, a burning of bites and roses. A flushed, trembling hollow across his lush. See his national pouty-lip, a skin-tight, slightly welling back door swinging all piano wide. His bikini simmers, his cheeks jump, honey face staring wickedly over lustrous flower shoulder. He crushes my diamonds, stains my quiver on the spot. I muzzle his leopard face. The night furrows its savage, purple coat. Waters my sleeping moonlight Cadillac. Drowning looks like light, to swim, meaningless. Here, lustrous racked chrome, passport of spandex lips. His pompadour bird, plunging into my wild Minnetonka.

Notes on the Poems Above

frankenpo [frang-kuh n-poh]

1. an invented poetic form

2. to create a new poetic text by collecting, disaggregating, randomizing, rearranging, recombining, erasing, and reanimating one or more chosen bodies of text, for the purpose of divining or revealing new meanings often at odds with the original texts.


"Letter to Chow Mo-wan" is a frankenpo of the screenplay for In the Mood for Love + transcription of "Yumeji's Theme" by Shingeru Umebayashi from the same film + Tony Leung Chiu-wai's Greatest Hits (梁 朝偉精) + a quote from Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick. Uses "feminine" gendered Japanese sentence endings.

"Descending, throttle early, savagely" is a frankenpo of the screenplay of Purple Rain (1984).

"Empire strikes" is a frankenpo of Emperor Palpatine's speech to the Galactic Senate (Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith) + POTUS 45's inaugural speech + selected dialogue involving the Emperor from Star Wars Ep 4-6.

Kenji C. Liu

Kenji C. Liu (劉謙司) is author of Map of an Onion, national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize, and Monsters I Have Been, forthcoming from Alice James Books (2019). His poetry is in American Poetry Review, Action Yes!, Split This Rock’s poem of the week series, several anthologies, and two chapbooks, Craters: A Field Guide (2017) and You Left Without Your Shoes (2009). A Kundiman fellow and an alumnus of VONA/Voices, the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and the Community of Writers, he lives in Los Angeles. @kenjicliu.