“Kootenai Cradleboard” by Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen


after Eileen Myles, while visiting the National Museum of the American Indian

You flowered
like a salmon
moves against 
sharp bone
like a beaded
ribbon swings
I called you 
loon because 
you knew
I called you
washing, the wood
asleep like
a bowl
your spine straight,
cheek against
buffalo teeth
you swallowed
sweet camas bulb
in the shape
of your lung
this cloth 
the mountains
bright under 
the light
like a 

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness


Michelle Chen: “I’ve learned to write with greater empathy in my poetry because of my experiences with mental illness. Depression, obsessive compulsions, and social anxiety lent me more curiosity and sympathy for narrators who are on the fringes of society. However, both the thought and execution of empathy often falls short in my poems’ universes, and I utilize this theme as a reflection of the difficulties involved with emotional distress. The feeling of being disconnected is the main theme of all these pieces, involving narrators with several small differences or diverse situations that end up eating away at them. I hope that my work will give insight into the realities of mental struggle, if not mental illness, and bring to light the reality and importance of mental health. The lack of tolerance of mental illness has affected me personally—I’ve been personally advised to remove the subject entirely from multiple applications for school and work—and this institutionalized discrimination and delegitimization of those who struggle mentally just as with any other illness is important to discuss. I hope that my piece allows readers not to forgive, but to understand the distressing isolation of thinking and living differently.” (website)

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