poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox


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.



I was locked into a single seed, my future fathoming. 
I was matter underwater and a sheer hoping, 
when I latched to earth, a first withered bloom. 
A sonic wonder, I sang about the future.
I was master of the oxen pulling me toward dawn, 
an existence first in death, a state of stillness 
before beginning, a middle earth of rain. 
I wore many masks until the right one fit.
Then the storm passed and I was wakened by water. 


I had stolen through the back door, eyed 
two loaves of bread. In the life before this one, 
I had seen the window, a greater reflection, 
yeast in the tin rising fast. My wanting grew. 
How does desire trump that? Perhaps desire 
is what we know best when the heart 
is listless but listening. I memorized my history 
which was nothing short of gleaming disasters 
repeated, just for me. 


I fell into a patch of green which was earth's matter
and fell some more. I am a boy and found myself
between war and my own luck, startled myself
in goodness and in haste, made a fire and got to cooking. 
Man: the most tender and incessant beast. 
A flawed danger but no less beautiful. A prairie 
where I walk for the first time, where I am the theory 
of origin: my brain barks in the heat, my legs buckle 
in the initial step, then a slow certainty, an engine 
of progress. My ankles turn clockwise in the soil, 
loosening root and worm, shaking free 
from the tangle and what held me there. 

Mambo Sun

I was never burned by anything that could touch me 
and I sat in the imagined throne with spoonsful of red sugar 
tasting the years ahead of me, wondering of the origin
of my mother. I think she is flame and quick step, glee 
and ignition. I saw her hands once in a flash flood 
pulling me awake, several claps and then I came alive
rising through the underbrush and cadence rumble,
then I breathed and found god's bone, cracked in pieces
in my throat and my own voice fused to answer back.

Copyright © 2012 by Tina Chang. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by Tina Chang. Used with 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

It is the smallest idea born in the interior will,

that has no fury nor ignorance,

no intruder but stranger, no scaffold of a plea,

no mote of the hungry, no pitchfork of instinct,

no ladder of pity, no carriage of lust,

no wavering foot on concrete, no parish of bees,

no mountains of coal, no limestone
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

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