Dong Li

Art by Richard Barnes

In this vital commemorative portfolio “The Muse: Dictee at 40,” edited by Porochista Khakpour and Jee Leong Koh, 12 writers, scholars, and artists respond to the continuing influence of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s groundbreaking work. Read Porochista Khakpour’s introduction here. For the full portfolio, click here.




time fills in, happily, not all is part, not all past you
if you follow, do look under, you are disappearing


pleasure is not for you, dry your blistered feet in winter
lemon light will come out as you sit and sip tea

your throat sores, not that you have talked
that which cripples stands up again


solid things project a merciless hope, debris old as you
you lift a leg over, what glitters draws your breath


there is nothing bigger than the river, riveting so
you jump in and swim in the middle, twice as you count


sough of wind, you finger water in the moon
that which breaks is not your face



spit of earth, the mind wakes to the orchard
the night attentive, someone you know picks blackberries


perdurable candlelight, your nails irk
a long tunnel to midnight fog, you are there most


shoulderless highway, you drive without headphones
someone reads to you, you cross a pitted bridge


earlobe of desire, you roll in honey
fire burnt between thighs, this is how you taste


empathy is not what you need, you hold up company
there is nothingness to learn, without you

you are never there, the shore is tempting
when abides, you eat your remains


“MERIDIAN” dreams of Dictee. This poem maps the twelve meridians in traditional Chinese medicine onto the first half of the Greek alphabet. I want the collision in form to emulate the expansiveness of Dictee. This dreamy poem desires Dictee’s fragile and fierce fragments. Its poetic lines are long to embody pathways, to contain and carry the lyric energy of desire. Sometimes the desire sits still. Sometimes it slowly shifts, Dictee ever in sight. Desire ever on display. I will do everything to keep it, from disappearing. This poem is a restless result.


Dong Li

Dong Li is a multilingual poet and translates from the Chinese, English, French, and German. His debut collection of poetry, The Orange Tree, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press in Spring 2023 as the inaugural winner of the Phoenix Emerging Poet Book Prize.

Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is a New York–based artist and photographer. For his series “Murmur,” which he produced over the course of two years, he photographed hundreds of thousands of migrating starlings in the skies above Rome as they coalesced in formations known as murmurations. Barnes’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions that include the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego; the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh; Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, MI; and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. His photographs are held in numerous public and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the Whitney Museum in New York; SFMOMA; LACMA; and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Barnes was the recipient of the Rome Prize in 2005, and in 2006 his work was featured in the Whitney Biennial and awarded the Alfred Eisenstadt Award for Photography. His monograph, Animal Logic, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2009.

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