Identity Poem (#99)

Are you the sky—or the allegory for loneliness?
Are you the only Chinese restaurant in Roseburg, Oregon?
A half-breed war orphan—adopted by proper Christians?

A heathen poidog, a creamy half-and-half?
Are you a dingy vinyl address book? A wrist
Without a corsage? Are you baby’s breath

Faced down on a teenage road in America?
Are you earphones—detached
Left dangling on an airplane jack to diaspora?

Are you doomed to a childhood without music?
Weary of your granny’s one-string, woe-be-gone erhu
Mewling about the past

Are you hate speech or are you a lullaby?
Anecdotes requiring footnotes
An ethnic joke rehashed

How many Chinamen does it take—to screw
How many Chinamen does it take—to screw
A lightbulb?

Are you so poor that you cannot call your mother?
You have less than two dollars on your phone-card
And it’s a long cable to Nirvana

Are you a skylight through which the busgirl sees heaven?
A chopping block stained by the blood of ten thousand innocents
Which daily, the same busgirl must wipe off

Does existence preempt essence?
I “being” what my ancestors were not
Suddenly, you’re a vegan vegetarian!

Restaurant is a facticity and
Getting the hell out—is transcendence
Was the punch line “incandescent”?

Was a nosebleed your last tender memory of her?
Did he say no dogs and Chinawomen?
Are you a rose—or a tattoo of fire?

More by Marilyn Chin

One Child Has Brown Eyes

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 poisoned dagger
Understand their vision, understand their blindness
Understand their vacuity, understand their mirth

Quiet the Dog, Tether the Pony

        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

Long     long    valleys          broad    broad     waters

Tears     are exhausted      now    shed    blood

Deep    deep     the baleful courtyards     who knows how deep

Folds on folds       of curtains

Gates         trap        infinite      twilight

Walk     walk        through     waning meadows

Steep     steep        toward       ten-thousand Buddhas

Knuckles     blue     on the balustrade

In the land of      missing      pronouns

Sun     is a     continuous     performance

And we      my lover      are      nothing

from Two Inch Fables

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 coffin

Lotus: pink     dewlapped     pretty
Lotus: upturned palm of my dead mother
Lotus:  a foot       a broken arch
Lotus:  plop      and a silent     ripple
I hum and stroll
And contemplate a poem
While young boys are dying
In West Darfur
I hum and stroll
And contemplate a poem
While young boys are dying
In West Darfur