poem index

About this poet

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. Her books of poetry have become Asian American classics and are taught in classrooms internationally. They include: Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (W.W. Norton & Co., 2002); The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994); and Dwarf Bamboo (1987). She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (2009).

Chin has won numerous awards for her poetry, including ones from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has received a Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Prize, a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan, as well as residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Lannan Residency, and the Djerassi Foundation.

Her work has been featured in a variety of anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, The Norton Introduction to Poetry, The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Unsettling America, The Open Boat, and The Best American Poetry of l996. She was featured in Bill Moyers’ PBS series The Language of Life.

She has read and taught workshops all over the world. Recently, she taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and was guest poet at universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Manchester, Sydney and Berlin and elsewhere. In addition to writing poetry, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu. Presently, she is writing a book of poetic tales. She co-directs the MFA program at San Diego State University.

How I Got That Name

Marilyn Chin

an essay on assimilation


I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of "be," without the uncertain i-n-g
of "becoming."  Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paperson
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated "Mei Ling" to "Marilyn."
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn't pronounce the "r."
She dubbed me "Numba one female offshoot"
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the "kitchen deity."
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—
a gambler, a petty thug,
who bought a chain of chopsuey joints
in Piss River, Oregon,
with bootlegged Gucci cash.
Nobody dared question his integrity given
his nice, devout daughters
and his bright, industrious sons
as if filial piety were the standard
by which all earthly men are measured.

*

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we've managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We're not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the "Model Minority" is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!
Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we'll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we'll find China.
History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn't hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of "Santa Barbara"
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a "bitch."
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

*

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another's profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one
may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite—
"not quite boiled, not quite cooked,"
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people's destiny.
"To kill without resistance is not slaughter"
says the proverb.  So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

*

So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,
married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,
granddaughter of Jack "the patriarch"
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,
survived by everbody and forgotten by all.
She was neither black nor white,
neither cherished nor vanquished,
just another squatter in her own bamboo grove
minding her poetry—
when one day heaven was unmerciful,
and a chasm opened where she stood.
Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,
or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,
it swallowed her whole.
She did not flinch nor writhe,
nor fret about the afterlife,
but stayed!  Solid as wood, happily
a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized
by all that was lavished upon her
and all that was taken away!

From The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty by Marilyn Chin, published by Milkweed Editions. Copyright © 1994 Marilyn Chin. Used with permission.

Marilyn Chin

Marilyn Chin

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon.

by this poet

poem
        A lament for Don (1958-2011)

Gaze     gaze      beyond the vermilion door

Leaf      leaf       tremble    fall

Stare blankly      at the the road's      interminable end



Reduplications     cold      cold     mountains

poem

Yellow gold is meaningless
Learning is better than pearls
A woman without brilliance
Leaves nothing but dim children
 
You can hawk your gold if you’re hungry
Sell your mule when you’re desperate
What can you do with so many poems
Sprouting dead hairs in an empty
poem
One child has brown eyes, one has blue
One slanted, another rounded
One so nearsighted he squints internal 
One had her extra epicanthic folds removed
One downcast, one couldn't be bothered
One roams the heavens for a perfect answer
One transfixed like a dead doe, a convex mirror
One shines double-edged like a