30 POETS/30 DAYS: MARILYN CHIN

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MILLENNIUM, SIX SONGS
BY MARILYN CHIN

I.

Black swollen fruit dangling on a limb
Red forgotten flesh sprayed across the prairie
Parched brown vines creeping over the wall
Yellow winged pollen, invisible enemies

Boluses without homesteads, grubs without a voice
Burrowed deeply into this land’s dark, dark heart
Someday, our pods and pupae shall turn in the earth
And burgeon into our motherlode’s bold beauty

II.

We’re a seed on the manure, on the sole of your shoe
We’re the louse trapped in your hank of golden hair
We’re the sliver that haunts beneath your thumbnail
We the church mouse you scorched with a match but lived

We’re the package wrapped, return address unknown
We’re the arm lowered again, again, a bloodied reverie
We’ve arrived shoeless, crutchless, tousle-haired, swollen-bellied
We shall inherit this earth’s meek glory, as foretold

II. (For Leah, my niece)

They gave you a title, but you were too proud to wear it
They gave you the paterland, but you were too lazy to farm it

Your condo is leaking, but you’re too angry to repair it
Your dress has moth holes, but you’re too sentimental to toss it

You’re too bored to play the lute, it hangs on the wall like an ornament
The piano bites you, it’s an eight-legged unfaithful dog

Love grows in the garden, but you’re too impudent to tend it
A nice Hakka boy from Ogden, so hardworking, so kind

The prayer mat is for prayer, not for catamite nipple-piercing
The Goddess wags her finger at your beautiful wasteland

A dream deferred, well, is a dream deferred

IV. (Janie’s retort, on her fortieth birthday)

The same stars come around and around and around
The same sun pecks her heat at the horizon
The same housing tract, the same shopping center
The same blunt haircut: Chinese, Parisian, Babylonion
The same lipstick: red and it comes off on your coffeecup
The same stars come around and around and around
The same sun tarries in the late noon sky
The same word for mom: Ah ma, madre, mere, majka
The same birthbabe: bald, purplish, you slap to make cry
The same stench: mother’s milk, shit and vomit
The same argument between a man and a woman
The same dog, hit by a car, the same escaped canary
The same turkey for Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year
The same three-tiered freeway: Istanbul, Tokyo, San Diego
The same hill, the same shanty town, the same lean-to
The same skyscraper: Hong Kong, Singapore, Toledo
The same soup: chicken, though the veggies may vary
The same rice for supper: white, brown or wild
The same stars come around and around and around
The same sun dips her head into the ocean
The same tree in the same poem by the same poet
The same old husband: saggy breasts, baggy thighs
The same blackness whether we sleep or die

V.
Whoever abandoned her grandmother at the bus stop
Whoever ran in and out the door like a blind wind
spinning the upside-down prosperity sign right side up again
Whoever lost her virtue in darkly paneled rooms with white boys
Whoever prayed for round eyes
and taped her eyelids in waiting
Whoever wore platform shoes
blustering taller than her own kind
Whoever sold her yellow gold for Jehovah
Whoever discarded her jade Buddha for Christ

VI.
Why are you proud, father, entombed with the other woman?
Why are you proud, mother, knitting my shroud in heaven?
Why are you proud, fish, you feed the greedy mourners?
Why are you proud, peonies, your heads are bowed and weighty?
Why are you proud, millennium, the dialect will die with you?
Why are you proud, psalm, hammering yourself into light?

Marilyn Chin is a Chinese American poet whose poetry touches on ideas of identity, love, and women’s rights. Her poetry is rhythmic, confrontational, and immensely moving as we can see from her poem, “Millennium, Six Songs.” After her family moved to America from Hong Kong, Chin attended the prestigious M.F.A. program at the University of Iowa, followed by a B.A. at the University of Massachusetts.

We’ve consulted our friends at the American Academy of Poets for her full biography:

Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. Her books of poetry have become Asian American classics and are taught in classrooms internationally. They include: Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (W.W. Norton & Co., 2002); The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994); and Dwarf Bamboo (1987). She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (2009).

Chin has won numerous awards for her poetry, including ones from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has received a Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Prize, a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan, as well as residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Lannan Residency, and the Djerassi Foundation.

Her work has been featured in a variety of anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, The Norton Introduction to Poetry, The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Unsettling America, The Open Boat, and The Best American Poetry of l996. She was featured in Bill Moyers’ PBS series The Language of Life.

She has read and taught workshops all over the world. Recently, she taught at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and was guest poet at universities in Singapore, Hong Kong, Manchester, Sydney and Berlin and elsewhere. In addition to writing poetry, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu. Presently, she is writing a book of poetic tales. She co-directs the MFA program at San Diego State University.

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