elaborating symphonics | on justin chin

by Enrico D. Wey


“I used to have this theory about how
much life a human body could hold.
It all had to do with the number
of heartbeats. Each human is assigned a number
determined by an unknown power cascading
over the dark waters of the unformed Earth.” 

                                                               - excerpt from Grave by Justin Chin, 2001

The words came at sixteen (1),
a silent film pooling and unreeling frames per second,
hand cranked and turned
to skipping streams of workers and miners, flooding and panning
that old gold mountain.
Heart heavy for a stroke of luck.
The start/stop of activities proved unreliable
and so and so,
undeniably human,
a poet not imprisoned by poetics,
a writer less righted by words. 

(1) Justin Chin’s words were introduced to me when I was sixteen. A small book given to me by a close friend. 
Mongrel: Essays, Diatribes, and Pranks.

Mongrel (2) was monstrous,
at once raging, now soft in slumber, snowman in blankets, irrepressible,
drifting gentle in silent snows (3).

Take it back.
-raging in slumber, soft in rage -
endearing slowly to third degree (4).

                                  (Seers play an interesting part in history as they point with lasers (5)
                                  to the future
                                  to a vision of the future
                                  to hope for the future
                                  perhaps a hope for the future.) (6)

Not a unicorn, that faggy beast appropriated in rainbows,
(although sucked cock, I am sure,
like a mythical creature gnarly horned.)
A clove-footed, dragon hearted, coat in hard scales,
                                                               soft gooey center.
         But to say mythic would be too much,
         undeniable human whose footfalls lay faulty,
         undeniable, marks in drifts, sidewinding into
                          “How will I be forgotten?”

                        (2) Hitting me hard was the striking similarity, where, he, at 30, and I, at 16, grappled with an identity marginalized in hyphens (asian-, -asian, -artist, artist-, queer-, -queer), and with displacement, with a notion of home,
what that could mean.
However, he had already begun harnessing a voice, a voice that could be heard,
or would be heard, without question.
One that now, 16 years later, I am still trying to find for myself
and continue to look to him for advice.

(3) “What did we learn in English 101, Poetry Subsection?
                                                             Snow: blankets and covers everything.
                                                             a classic trope for death/renewal,
                                                             also Fall/Autumn
                                                             (Chin, J. Gutted, p.57)

(4) Somewhat unintentional reference to Dylan Thomas,
hard to say where it came from.
So embedded in consciousness, played and repeated.
Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds comes quicker than others.

(5) from Gutted

(6) A nod to 
Munoz, Jose Esteban. Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity

A man ruminates on his relationship with his dying(/)father, variations in millions, feels like a
rough cut, a perverse meet cute. I am gutted, appropriately, title of book says so (7). 

(7) It is a particularly strange sensation, shortly after his passing,
to be revisiting the words of Chin from his collection of poetry, Gutted.
Gutted in large part was Chin’s ruminations on the process of dying,
as witness to his father’s waning health,
and his own inevitable approach towards death.
As I read the record of his process,
I imagine these same words, these same thoughts,
running through his own mind,
as his own conscious moments came to a close.

We complicate in vain, feigning distance when close closed
When will the sky break open in showers, chin drenched in spit-soaked expectation
Your high rises reflected in short falls. A tread, a crest requested, required in quiet calls.
Footfalls faint await an arrival.

We complicate in veins?


...not a flash in the pan nor the word of a panhandler,
not a one time deal on Black Friday at Best Buy,
not an aforementioned stroke of luck, genius.
A hard lived, a something to say.

Repealed planned obsolescence three days over
overrode preassigned numbers (8).

Perhaps the number of heart skipped beats totaled 3 days
Or flights, of fancy, or cross-continental.
Or modern medicine.
To choose the prior, to imagine full-filled moments,
stretched in these supposed extremes, leaves sated.

(8) A guided reference to Chin’s poem, Grave, as excerpted above. Justin Chin suffered a stroke on December 19th, 2015, and remained on life support for three more days. When does the heartbeat signal a moment to stop. I realize in the passage of events that perhaps Justin did not have time, as alluded to in footnote 7, to ruminate on his words before he passed. A stroke occurs in an instant, so it could be that there were no considerations made, or, relative to our understanding of time, all those thoughts still could have had come to pass. In any event, I hope it brought comfort, to any degree, to all that were present. However, I like to believe that the extension of living, these 3 days, was, as he was in his writings, a pushback against normal, a fight, a struggle. This is also, admittedly, very complicated. A short thought from Alok Vaid-Menon of trans South Asian performance duo, DarkMatter, I read in an interview posited: “I struggle with how we have to aestheticize our pain- often make it beautiful- in order for it to be taken seriously.” I have sat on those words since I read them and I wish I had an answer. Is beauty inherent in pain. Is pain necessary. Is it validation. Is it manipulation. Is it a series of hyphens. Is it a quest. Take it seriously, wrapped in technicolor cellophane, a man-eating lotus blossom, stamped in “Made in…” Asian country to follow. Is it a problem. Is it a performance. It will take you whole. Say “yes and no” as it changes in an instant and one can’t distinguish what way is up. We are nothing if not persistent, critical. Chew and Bite Hard.

soft in sleep
hard bitten
left a mark (9)

(9) To begin an attempt to answer Justin’s question, left behind, “How will I be forgotten?”


makes things in his head that are sometimes performed on a stage of some kind, virtually or live. he has had the pleasure of working with Milka Djordjevich, Trajal Harrell, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Yvonne Meier, Little Lord, and Big Dance Theater. Recipient of a Fresh Tracks residency and an Extended Life residency through DTW and LMCC, respectively. Featured in The Outs and in Dennis Cooper/Zac Farley's Like Cattle Towards Glow. He has toured extensively as a member of Handspring Puppet Company and William Kentridge's "Il Ritorno d'Ulisse." His last performed work, "this useless tool, this folded flower" premiered at Abrons Art Center in 2015, the companion piece of which will premiere at Danspace Project at the end of this March. Currently based between NYC and Berlin, after originating the lead role for Broadway's Warhorse and serving as Resident Puppetry Director in the German language production, the most concrete thing in his head is a childrens' novel to be penned with Joby Earle. everything else is a bit of a wash

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