Kenji C. Liu


Kenji C. Liu ( is a 1.5-generation immigrant from New Jersey. A Pushcart Prize nominee and first runner-up finalist for the Poets & Writers 2013 California Writers Exchange Award, his writing is forthcoming or published in CURA, RHINO Poetry, Generations, Eye to the Telescope, Ozone Park Journal, Kweli Journal, Doveglion Press, Best American Poetry’s blog, Lantern Review, and others. His poetry chapbook You Left Without Your Shoes was nominated for a 2009 California Book Award. A three-time VONA alum and recipient of residencies at Djerassi and Blue Mountain Center, he is working on a full-length poetry book. He is the poetry editor emeritus of Kartika Review and lives in California.

After Tofu Mantra II

Black ink on fresh tofu
Tsai Charwei, 2006

Slice this any way you want. Mandolin
wisdom. Understand—no eyes, no teeth.
No bone chill, no fallen hair. No need
for liquid protein. O Shariputra, witness the
Pacific expanse smash on tender
shore. Tattoo compassion under my skin,
signal your radio like a spear from the future.

Clouds bend away without significance.
Translucent air mail, creased by my mother’s hand.
Onion skin tether, broken.

Write the sutra so neatly a bird reads it
from space, so tenderly my dead touches
her own cheek, startled.

'After Tofu Mantra II' is a personalized reflection on a performance by Taiwanese artist Charwei Tsai. Much of Tsai's early work is a reflection on impermanence. In the performance, Tsai writes the Heart Sutra (a key Mahayana Buddhist text) in black ink on a large block of tofu, cuts away the top layer, then starts over on the fresh surface. She does this again and again until the tofu is finished. This poem is my contemplation on the impermanence of life, as well as what possibly remains after it.