Published on Academy of American Poets (

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?


From Rhapsody in Plain Yellow. Copyright © 2003 by Marilyn Chin. Used with the permission of the author.


Marilyn Chin

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. The author of six poetry collections, she currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Date Published: 2003-01-01

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