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Online Poems by Marilyn Chin

The Survivor

Don't tap your chopsticks against your bowl.
Don't throw your teacup against the wall in anger.
Don't suck on your long black braid and weep.
Don't tarry around the big red sign that says
All the tempests will render still; seas will calm,
horses will retreat, voices to surrender.
That you have this way and not that,
that your skin is yellow, not white, not black,
that you were born not a boychild but a girl,
that this world will be forever puce-pink are just as well.
Remember, the survivor is not the strongest or
most clever;
merely, the survivor is almost always the youngest.
And you shall have to relinguish that title
before long.

from The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty. Milkweed Editions, copyright 1994.
online source:

Turtle Soup

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 Wet, 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 that gentle napkin
over your lap in decorous Pasadena.

Baby, some high priestess has 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?


Copyright 1993 by Marilyn Chin, from The Pheonix Gone, The Terrace Empty
Online Source:


The moon is not over the water,
as you would have it,
but one with it, and the house
is on the precipice
overlooking a green meadow.
And you -- an eye and not an I --
are walking through it.

And whether you live here
or are visiting
in your long pilgrimage --
is my prerogative.
Whether she is your acolyte,
the Pearl Concubine,
or a mere beggarwoman --
is also my invention.

Only I know where
terrace ends and house begins,
whether the country is lost,
whether rivers and mountains
will continue. And finally,

after the inkstone is dry,
we shall be together
high in a corner bedroom
with a pale view of hills.
Without pleasure or transcendence
we penetrate this landscape.

And what is this landscape?
The moon in oatgrass,
the oatgrass moon.
A woman pacing
the linoleum floor,
contemplating a poem.
A man dissolving
into the dailiness of rain.

and the red eye of morning.

Copyright 1993 by Marilyn Chin, from The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (Milkweed Editions)
Online Source:


War chariots thunder, horses neigh, the barbarians are coming.

What are we waiting for, young nubile women pointing at the wall,
    the barbarians are coming.

They have heard about a weakened link in the wall.
    So, the barbarians have ears among us.

So deceive yourself with illusions: you are only one woman,
    holding one broken brick in the wall.

So deceive yourself with illusions: as if you matter,
    that brick and that wall.

The barbarians are coming: they have red beards or beardless
with a top knot.

The barbarians are coming: they are your fathers, brothers,
    teachers, lovers; and they are clearly an other.

The barbarians are coming:
    If you call me a horse, I must be a horse.
    If you call me a bison, I am equally as guilty.

When a thing is true and is correctly described, one doubles
    the blame by not admitting it: so, Chuangtzu, himself,
    was a barbarian king!

Horse, horse, bison, bison, the barbarians are coming

and how they love to come.
The smells of the great frontier exalt in them!

Copyright Marilyn Chin. Online Source

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