Light Into Bodies  

Light Into Bodies

By Nancy  Chen Long

Taken as a whole, Light into Bodies grapples with issues of identity, the fluid and evolving nature of identity, and how identity can be contextual. It explores individual identity and how that identity changes through time and influence. The book is divided into three parts. The first section inhabits the landscape of childhood, that of a biracial, multiethnic child as she grapples with understanding the world and her place in it based on what she sees and what she’s been taught. The second section moves from childhood and family-of-origin into the world of the adult: relationships, marriage, divorce, and expectations of identity and behavior based on relationship roles. The third section opens up to the larger world and identity in that world, societal expectations and assumptions with respect to identity, the concept of home, memory and time, origins and creation. Recurring juxtapositions of sometimes seemingly disparate things, such as science and religion, myth and math, East and West, coupled with a mix of various poetic forms and styles, strive to work against the declaration of a monolithic identity. The book ends with a nod to the idea that we are multi-dimensional with multiple identities, to the idea that identity is a personal journey and that we have a right and an obligation to identify our own selves.


“I recreated a world/—so real looking—/out of spit and dust,” writes Nancy Chen Long in her powerful debut, Light into Bodies. And she does just that, while bringing light into the human and animal bodies of the universe, as she chronicles the rhythms of her Taiwanese origins and a childhood journey from Okinawa to the United States and into a generative, complex womanhood. Both the fullness and absence of family guide the speaker of these poems into an illumination of voice, all the more courageous in that it inhabits the knife-edge of liminal space. Nancy Chen Long’s poems sing with rage and rage with tenderness, as they lovingly—and deftly—seek the solace of identity.

—George Kalamaras • Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016)


Readers will indeed feel they have entered through the “good luck door” after opening Nancy Chen Long’s Light into Bodies. This is a gorgeous debut, filled with glorious language that tenaciously explores the mysteries of many worlds that in the end make one life.

—Kathleen Driskell • Author of Blue Etiquette


Much is at stake in Nancy Chen Long’s beautiful book. She attempts the impossible—to construct identity in a country where children are told “to color-/in Caucasoid.” Her poems possess an emotional potency translated through the “lexicon of water” and the “vernacular of tumbleweed.” Light into Bodies reminds us of the startling paradox—there is no hope without insatiable hunger. We end where we begin.

—Nancy K. Pearson • Author of The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone


Nancy Chen Long’s poems are lush, meditative, and quietly urgent. With lines that are lyrically charged and haunted by the past, these poems long to be heard and carried in the ear. Here are poems that are not afraid of beauty, or silence, or to know, “Dust is never an option. I have no need to hide.”

—Ada Limón • Author of Bright Dead Things


These are my favorite kinds of poems: stories swept clean with the parsimonious bristle-switch of language even as pockets of narrative remain fluid, aviary, free. The achievement of Light into Bodies is both its momentum and its still moments, “grains of rice, marking a trail back home,” a pacing black puma, sassafras and nettles, a constellation of scars, poem after poem a perfect hymn for those of us “who sing with rage in our throats.”

—Susanna Childress • Author of Entering the House of Awe


The poems in Light into Bodies amaze me with their verbal precision and richness. Revealing a tonal range that bridges scientific specificity and dream-like spontaneity, Nancy Chen Long makes good on her ambition to explore necessary questions about family, race, history, and spirituality. She answers not with pat conclusions, but an illuminating openness, a quickened vulnerability from which her poems derive their lasting strength. Her emotional power and formal mastery are cause for gratitude.

—Peter Campion • Author of El Dorado


Light Into Bodies is also available in Paperback.











  • Poetry