Praxis

I had put down in writing my fear of the war

I too pined for pastoral description

The blue of the water was the blue of the world

Newness does not, for me, equal satisfaction

A finite number of concentric rings I push out into space

A tedious fabric moving through time without malice

An act of oration, rebellion, inventory, fantasy

The sound of the earth closing its one good eye over me

Imagine: you reach out towards the margin’s white hand

You do what your poems want and are clean

When you lay down your thorns you will be done

You do not take up arms against anyone

More by Wendy Xu

My Dissent and My Love Are Woven Inside Me

I commune with the text by way of railing against the text

The molecular processes of you are never finished

I move through air in the early fall, a cooling spittle, high heat
      days are gone

When the troops leave the replica city, you see that its
      battlements are written in green

A Western style of defense, no birds, all men

Same plaza, white stones, black columns, no memory

You want to walk along the path meant for military vehicles
      and are denied

You want to try falling down where others had before you, and
      are unceremoniously denied

You wanted permission to travel to the mainland to see your
      mother

All of your desires were completely impractical

That is, you did not want to atone for anything you had done

Pledge

The diagnosis was god, twice a day until the spirit
untangles itself. I took a trip into unscripted
days past, teenagers submit to the window an open
facing yawn. A walnut fell into the grave
of my loved one and stayed there beating patient
like a word. I was still unmoved by disbelief watching
my father mumble the pledge and hot white stars
he can’t remember. Nobody got hurt, some un-
fulfilled potential exits the room. Enter, knowledge.
Men came to dispel ambiguity and raced 
my intention to a hard boiling over. Each new decade
we stayed was a misinterpretation
of genre. We showed our teeth over the years to those
who would listen. In the face of the absent subject 
I felt my desire go flaccid. The leaves fell dutifully one
by one from their limbs. But I wrote to you against
all odds. Money. Paperwork. Love’s heavy
open door. Critique. Indignity. Vision and often
enough time.

Writing Home

An absence declares
its blunt self. I can’t believe the extent
of my luck, heard twice, like violets
in a bath of lukewarm water.
The city was my father’s though none
of its sweetness appears here living
before you. A strong instrument.
A blowing on the hands
and neck. A curtain almost open.
I inherited a stiff collar sewn
against loveliness where once
we must have walked freely into
the city square and gathered
there like an intention. Two lips bloomed
on my mother’s cheek. I felt
a heavenly peace. Here, the marker you
might have waited for: ancient
dough, rolled and fried. These days
the lyric’s sentiment floats
away from me. Like a river someone
forgets to bless. Memory, to memory,
to the dirt path opening
again in a dream. I have not been back
for so many years. I walk the distance
in my mind, the margins flowing by
like so much foreign water.

Related Poems

How I Got That Name

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 everybody 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!