You Are Not Dead, Wendy Xu (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013), Reviewed by Analicia Sotelo
Everyone’s worried about the apocalypse, but not everyone has a sweet, best friend who insists the apocalypse is nothing to worry about. In Wendy Xu’s debut collection, You Are Not Dead, there are a plenty of everyday things to fear—moving to a new city only to forget old friends, dying in a house fire, the “actual untelevised apocalypse”—but “nothing is actually wrong with us ever,” the speaker insists, though she takes “a quiet kind / of panic to the river” (10, 60, 7). You will be charmed by this witty, non-committal prophet who keeps on noticing, with an unusual gratitude, that meaning is not dead: “I know my hands fold / on their own. I know falling / to my knees still means something. / That a basin of cool water still answers the moon” (15). Creatures keep on living, too, and they’re wondrous—those friends who talk about craving waffles, that majestic African Prairie Buck, the tree she’s planted “knowing / it’s fine without me” (18, 8, 25). You Are Not Dead tells us it’s okay to surrender our need for control, proposing that “one way to be amazed is to be / less amazing and then pay / attention” (18). Wendy Xu writes a realistic hope and humility into our every little anxious thought, illuminating the natural grace that still exists among us. What an overlooked, exceptional truth: we will one day die, but we are not dead yet.