You go home one evening tired from work,
and your mother boils you turtle soup.
Twelve hours hunched over the hearth
(who knows what else is in that cauldron.)
You say, “Ma, you’ve poached the symbol of long life;
that turtle lived four thousand years, swam
the Wei, up the Yellow, over the Yangtze.
Witnessed the Bronze Age, the High Tang,
grazed on splendid sericulture.”
(So, she boils the life out of him.)
“All our ancestors have been fools.
Remember Uncle Wu who rode ten thousand miles
to kill a famous Manchu and ended up
with his head on a pole? Eat, child,
its liver will make you strong.”
“Sometimes you’re the life, sometimes the sacrifice.”
Her sobbing is inconsolable.
So, you spread the gentle napkin
over your lap in decorous Pasadena.
Baby, some high priestess got it wrong.
The golden decal on the green underbelly
says “Made in Hong Kong.”
Is there nothing left but the shell
and humanity’s strange inscriptions,
the songs, the rites, the oracles?
From The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty (Milkweed Editions, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the author.