A Stahlecker Series Selection
In Sandy Tseng’s finely-honed debut collection, Sediment, leaving is both what remains—the marks of our
presence once we’ve gone—and the act of going to another place, a different culture, an unknown afterlife.
“The island rebuilds itself over the loft and we rebuild over it,” eroding and erasing as we raise, replacing
rote traditions with new mantras. Sediment asks what it means to belong and to possess in a time of
upheaval, a time “in between languages,” when we “change the advisory from yellow / to orange, orange to
yellow—/ we do not plan on running to the house / to get our belongings.” This book explores the pleasures
and terrors of transition and translation, suggesting that language itself does not belong to us but waits,
wanting a body: “Some words are better left gathering in the wind. / But we speak them.” Tseng writes, “We
can never go back. I’ve wanted to pack everything into a box, ship it back overseas with a note explaining,”
caught in the middle of competing cultures. In brittle, etched couplets, in poised, staccato sentences, and in
searching lines that look back questioningly even as they forge ahead, Sediment seeks purchase on that
shifting world. “Some things / we were never meant to keep,” suggests one poem, pondering what we should
cling to, what let slip away, and how to make sense out of the possessions we’re left with.
Sediment is at once haunted, vivid, clinical: “on your white coat, the blood / of a stranger,” “the moon is the silver of stainless steel that sews your bone back together.” Through these accounts of immigration and migration, of family loss and being at a loss for what to do, we experience disjuncture in its unsettling familiarity, the way “there are people in restaurants eating their meals and people walking around crying. People washing out to sea.” These poems argue the need to emulate “the birds / that leave and come back with nothing. How content they are. / The beauty of having nothing.” They argue, too, that possessions might shore us, if only because “There’s something / premeditated in the way / an object is broken—” Having traveled with Tseng through the imaginary, lived, and left cities of Sediment , we learn not to forget nor to hold on but to read “negative space. The displacement of dust and roads.” We learn that the sediment of our lives—not just dust and past cities, but received traditions, half-recalled memories, accrued possessions—is also the fragment by which we recognize a future life, here or elsewhere. Sediment is an assured, challenging debut from a poet of great promise.