“BLUEPRINTS” is finding language for a homeland, the songs of our parents. It is a recollection of grief, and how a people emerge from mourning one day, one breath at a time. As much as these poems honor the author’s Taiwanese-American heritage, they are also an invitation into crossing bridges: to celebrate and fight for the tribes adjacent, surrounding us all along. Through endless cups of shay in the Middle East, conversations during suhoor, the dancing on secluded rooftops: Grief is a storm we weather together. Cover art by Dianuh Aerin Gundersen.
Blueprints is the debut poetry collection of Taiwanese American writer Jeanelle Fu, spanning meditations on heritage, loss, and faith. After losing a loved one to cancer, Fu spent some time living in the Middle East, during which a nearby city was bombed. Her thesis of grief, as mapped out in Blueprints, is that mourning need not be isolating or solitary. None escape loss; therefore none must suffer this alone or unknown.
Fu’s poems, published during the miasmic grief of the Taiwanese American Presbyterian church shooting in Irvine and countless pandemic-era losses, offered a gentle, quiet balm of healing, sharing, and witnessing. I was so grateful to have this by my side throughout the last few months.
The poems both beckon and transcend religion, drawing from the canon of 1 Corinthians to the a-mi-to-fo chants calling out for Amitābha, the Buddha of immeasurable light and life, to the thirst of Ramadan. None of these faiths, the poems suggest, can protect us from the gut-wrenching experience of loss. But all of them, Fu proposes, will share in our collective human “weight of a thousand tears.”
In one of the opening poems, we learn of Fu’s father, who aspires to be an architect, whose own father was among the millions displaced from China. Through them, ambition is held in equal dignity with sacrifice. Fu also reaches for intent as a vehicle for mercy across generations, evoking “did you eat yet?” as evidence of persistence. “Yet still,” she writes, “inheritance is stunning:/to have traces of another’s blood, their golden hours/and vices running through your veins/like borrowed time.”
The poems also conjure the body of Taiwan summers: Yangmingshan, mosquito nets and Buddhist sutras. Proximity from these is measured in silence, which is perhaps why, Fu writes, “the Asian American narrative is hard to write.”
Womanhood and diaspora become sites of grief as well; interspersed with her own black-and-white photography, Fu wonders “if it’s ok to be a mother and be vulnerable, too.”
In the end, Blueprints does not promise an answer to such questions, nor an end to such losses. But each poem resonates with a solemn solidarity. There may be no resolution, but there can be rest. There may be no closure, but there can be companionship. There can be, threaded through each of us, a blueprint for how we might learn to heal together.
“We need each other to articulate/the heaviness within.”
Jeanelle Fu is a Taiwanese-American poet and creative storyteller who resides with her husband in Los Angeles. Her poems have been performed at UCLA and translated into multiple languages. She has experience with spoken word and collaborating across mediums such as film and dance. She is passionate about creating content that is honest, engaging to the senses, and awakening to the soul.
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