Huang, Jennifer: Return Flight
Milkweed Editions, paperback
Publication Date: January 18, 2022
Publisher Marketing: Selected by Jos Charles as the winner of the 2021 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, Return Flight is a lush reckoning: with inheritance, with body, with trauma, with desire—and with the many tendons in between.
When Return Flight asks “what name / do you crown yourself,” Huang answers with many. Textured with mountains—a folkloric goddess-prison, Yushan, mother, men, self—and peppered with shapeshifting creatures, spirits, and gods, the landscape of Jennifer Huang’s poems is at once mystical and fleshy, a “myth a mess of myself.” Sensuously, Huang depicts each of these not as things to claim but as topographies to behold and hold.
Here, too, is another kind of mythology. Set to the music of “beating hearts / through objects passed down,” the poems travel through generations—among Taiwan, China, and America—cataloging familial wounds and beloved stories. A grandfather’s smile shining through rain, baby bok choy in a child’s bowl, a slap felt decades later—the result is a map of a present-day life, reflected through the past.
Return Flight is a thrumming debut that teaches us how history harrows and heals, often with the same hand; how touch can mean “purple” and “blue” as much as it means intimacy; and how one might find a path toward joy not by leaving the past in the past, but by “[keeping a] hand on these memories, / to feel them to their ends.”