poem index

About this poet

Tina Chang was born in 1969 in Oklahoma to Chinese immigrants. She and her family moved to Queens, New York, a year later. Chang attended Binghamton University and received her MFA in poetry from Columbia University.

She is the author of Of Gods and Strangers (Four Way Books, 2011) and Half-Lit Houses (2004), which was a finalist for an Asian American Literary Award from the Asian American Writers Workshop.

Chang is the coeditor, with Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar, of Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry From the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (W.W. Norton, 2008).

She has held residencies at MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Artist's Residency, Vermont Studio Center, Fundacion Valparaiso, Ragdale, Blue Mountain Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has also received awards from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, Poets & Writers, and the Van Lier Foundation.

Chang was elected Brooklyn Poet Laureate in 2010. She currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Evolution of Danger

Tina Chang, 1969
I'm the one in the back of the bar, drinking cachaça, 
fingering the lip of the glass. Every dream has left 
me now as I wait for the next song:  Drag and drum. 
They'll be no humming in this room, only fragrance 
of sweat and fuel. To make the animal go. To make it 
Hungry.  After that there is Thirst. 

* 

I danced in the border town until it wasn't decent, 
until I was my grandest self hitchhiking, my slim arm 
out like the stalk of a tired flower, waving, silver rings 
catch the headlights. I'm not sure what I wanted
as we rode on his motorcycle where Chinese signs blurred 
past, flashing red, then blue, and I breathed in the scent 
of fish and plum. My hands found their way to his pockets 
as I rode without helmet, careening toward the cemetery, 
the moon dripping light onto avenues of tombstones.

*

If the Tunisian black market was hidden within a maze. 
If I couldn't find my way, I asked. The wide eyes 
of the boy who led me to the Mediterranean Sea. 
If I took his kindness as a version of truth and stood 
posing for a photo in front of bicycles leaned 
against the sand colored walls. If I arrived 
at the center of the market, women in black muslin 
sold glazed tile on blankets. When I bent down, 
the men surrounded me. If they asked for money 
I had nothing. If they threw their bills around me, 
I recall the purple and red faces crushed on paper. 

* 

Attempting to cross the border with no passport, 
no money. The contents had fallen out of her 
pocket as she ran for the bus. She made promises 
to the officers, bared an inner thigh until their eyes 
grew wide, until they stamped a sheet of official paper 
with tri-colored emblems. The man's fist 
was large though it twitched as he pounded 
the stamp onto the translucent page. The little 
money she had inside an orange handkerchief tied 
to her hair, coins rolling to the ground as she fled.

*

Perhaps it was chance that I ended on the far side 
of the earth. Atrocities of our entanglement not on the bed 
but beside it. Using our mouths as tools for betterment, 
for seduction, for completion. The vertebra twists 
into a question mark to conform to another's. 

In the Patanal, the cowboys steadied the horses 
in the barn, the animal's labored breathing, the sigh 
as the coarse brush worked through the mane. 
The owner's daughter learning to move her hips 
as she practiced her samba before the steaming pot, 
and radio clicking, and lid drumming.

Of the men I've known, you were the most steady,
reliable one near the window killing mosquitoes, 
gathering cool water to press to my scalp. One-sided 
heart I was then. Selfish one. I wanted everything. 
Macaws flew past in quick flock, pushing outward 
toward the earth's scattering filament and mystery. 

* 

I don't ask myself questions anymore
(but it is not a question you ask yourself),
rather it was born, rather that the statement
was peeled like a film of dirt, (rather 
the words were meaning) wrapped inside 
a scarf, stuffed into my carry bag, rather 
that the camera caught all of it 
(the hunter and the kill).

When danger itself was restless,
(it had four legs and it ran with speed 
& vengeance). Though there was 
no purpose, (though the past had nothing 
to do with the chase now). This grand state 
(pumped from its own engine of blood), 
centuries of evolution, first as a red-eyed 
embryo, then reptile, then mammal, then 
man, pure racing, push of muscle and tendon, 
the tongue loose and dragging as the body 
made its way forward. Each time more 
powerful, a new version of waking until 
the species grew great wings and lifted.

Copyright © 2010 by Tina Chang. Used by permission of the author.

Tina Chang

Tina Chang

Born in 1969, Tina Chang was a finalist for an Asian American Literary Award from the Asian American Writers Workshop for her debut collection Half-Lit Houses.

by this poet

poem
When everything was accounted for 
you rummaged through my bag to find 
something offensive: a revolver, 
a notebook of misinterpreted text. 

I'm God's professor. 
His eyes two open ovens.
He has a physical body
and it hiccups and blesses. 

Tell me a story before the mudslide, 
tell it fast before the house
poem

I opened the silver pronged evening and translated
the great song of the Industrial Age. Each night
I hoped it would tell a different ending. Each time
it sang a song, sadder than I would have imagined.

I heard it, not only when I put all my perspectives
away on shelves, until the

poem
Perhaps I hold people to impossible ideals, 
I tell them, something is wrong with your 
personality, (you're a drinker, you're 
too dependent, or I think you have 
a mother/son fixation). This is usually 
followed by passionate lovemaking,
one good long and very well meaning 
embrace, and then I'm out the