Things Chinese

By Adrienne Su b. 1967 Adrienne Su
Once, I tried to banish them all from my writing.
This was America, after all, where everyone’s at liberty
To remake her person, her place, or her poetry,
And I lived in a town a long way from everything—
Where discussions of “diversity”
Centered mainly on sexuality.
My policy, born of exhaustion with talk about race
And the quintessentially American wish for antecedents,
Eliminated most of my family, starting with the grandparents,
Two of whom stayed Chinese to their final days,
Two of whom were all but defined by their expertise
On the food of the country I was trying to excise.
It canceled out the expensive center
Of an intense undergraduate curriculum
And excluded the only foreign language I could talk in.
It wiped out my parents’ earliest years
And converted them to 1950s Georgians
Who’d always attended church and school, like anyone.
My father had never paused at two water fountains
And asked a white man which he should drink from,
And never told his children what the answer had been.
My mother had never arranged a migration,
Solo at seventeen, from Taipei to wherever,
But had simply appeared in Gainesville out of ether,

And nothing about their original languages
Had brought them together. Their children
Had never needed to explain to anyone
Why distinctness and mystery were not advantages
When they were not optional, and never wondered
If particular features had caused particular failures.
For months I couldn’t write anything decent
Because banned information kept trying to enter
Like bungled idioms in the speech of a foreigner.
I was my own totalitarian government,
An HMO that wouldn’t pay for a specialist,
And I was the dissident or patient who perished.
The hope was to transcend the profanity of being
Through the dissolution of description and story,
Which I thought might turn out to be secondary
To a semi-mystical state of unseeing,
But everywhere I went there was circumstance,
All of it strangely tainted by my very presence.

Adrienne  Su, "Things Chinese" from Sanctuary. Copyright © 2006 by Adrienne Su.  Reprinted by permission of Manic D Press.

Source: Sanctuary (Manic D Press, 2006)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Adrienne Su b. 1967

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity


Raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Su earned a BA from Radcliffe College of Harvard University and an MFA from the University of Virginia. She is the author of the poetry collections Middle Kingdom (1997), Sanctuary (2006), and Having None of It (2009). Her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and residencies at the Fine Arts Works Center and The Frost Place.
Commenting on her work for the National Endowment . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.