Selected Poems from The Year of Blue Water

The Year of Blue Water is the winner of the 2018 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize and the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards finalist for the transgender poetry category.

Between the contrast of high lyric and direct prose poems, Yanyi’s straightforward poems weave experiences of immigration as a Chinese American, of racism, of mental wellness, and of gender from a queer and trans perspective.

We celebrate Pride Month 2024 with a selection of excerpts by LGBTQ+ authors in the Yale Series of Younger Poets—the longest-running poetry prize in the United States. 


Page 22

For a long time, I was attached to she/her as my pronouns, even when I was nonbinary. They didn’t seem as sharp as I wanted it to be. And I like precision. Diana tells me that to be trans or nonbinary is not to be a woman but to be of women. That seems a more useful gesture. I never want to disappear unequivocally into masculinity. Womanhood is the country I come from, a home I reach back for to reproduce, recreate, replenish.

Page 26

It was graduation, and I had already said goodbye to so many people. Everyone else had plans and family to attend to, so we were alone. It was supposed to be a proud moment, but my thing, my life, had ruined it. At the time, I owned a small collection of oxfords, undoubtedly masculine. Before she came, I hid them in a bag that I didn’t move to my new apartment because I knew she would find them there. For two days, I wore shoes with no arch support. On the third day, I wore my brown oxfords to be comfortable. No one looks at anyone’s shoes. For the rest of the day, we were at the museum and all she could talk about was my shoes. At the foldable table in my new apartment, she asked me if I was gay, which I had told her ten years ago but she didn’t believe me. She asked me if I was gay, and I didn’t say anything, but I cried. She threw away the shoes and then we had dinner. When I did the dishes, I had to empty the rice onto my shoes and I never saw them again.

Page 45

For three years, I watch any TV that I hear of with lesbian characters. I say lesbian because that is what I was looking for at the time, and because there wasn’t much differentiation in TV shows then. I streamed what I could. This was only possible when the computer was in my room, a hot brick of plastic: a door. The women were white, but that I ignored in the very rare faces of longing. I saw myself in longing: right before the kiss, looking without having to look away, being made of so much and finally landing somewhere, anywhere, with someone who would love this part of me.

The thing about hiding one thing about yourself for ten years is that it warps your perception of the real you. What you must protect against all odds becomes your defect, your truth, your failure, your success. It becomes the most authentic thing you have because you have no means of going further, of wanting more. There were consequences for knowing myself. I didn’t want to want more.

From The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi. Published by Yale University Press in 2019. Reproduced with permission.

Yanyi is a poet and critic who has received fellowships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Poets House, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. He formerly served as curatorial assistant at The Poetry Project and is associate editor at Foundry. He is also the author of Dream of the Divided Field.

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