Under the Influence | Nancy Chen Long

Posted on Posted in poems

Once upon a time—the year I turned
twenty—a man impressed upon me
Jesus is Lord. To help

me remember, he scrawled it across
my inner thigh in red, had me chant
the phrase for days until

the meaning of each word petrified
into a pebble in my mouth, smooth
and righteous. Like a mouth

full of rocks, the words together
made no sense. I spit them out.


Months later, under the influence
of twilight, impressions will make me
halt in the glimmerspace

of a hallway, where, for want of sun-
light, I will see the man reappear.
This time without hinges.

This time, in his hand, a lucifer
flame. To Combust or Ignite? he will
query and I’ll decide

on flight. He’ll remind me, saying Your
temple is nothing but a cubby-
hole, Alcoholic. Stay

in your corner. I must be under
the influence of flame. Because look:
how I turn

pale on an axis. Look: I tumble.
Accelerating, see how freely
I mix with the oxygen of air.

Because he’ll again insert his hand
into my back pocket. Because, he’ll
explain. To spark an arc of light.

Source: Ulysses. James Joyce.

About the Author
Nancy Chen Long received a BS in Electrical Engineering Technology and an MBA, worked as an electrical engineer, software consultant, and project manager, and more recently earned an MFA. As a volunteer with the local Writers Guild, she offers poetry workshops and coordinates a reading series for poets. She writes poetry-book reviews and interview poets at Poetry Matters (readwritepoetry.blogspot.com) and her blog nancychenlong.blogspot.com. You’ll find her recent and forthcoming work in Bat City Review, Pleiades, Superstition Review, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. Her chapbook Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (2013) was published by Red Bird Chapbooks. She currently works at Indiana University.