Rhapsody in Plain Yellow

By Marilyn Chin b. 1955 Marilyn Chin
for my love, Charles (1938-2000)
 
 
Say: 言
 
I love you, I love you, I love you, no matter
    your race, your sex, your color. Say:
the world is round and the arctic is cold.
    Say: I shall kiss the rondure of your soul’s
living marl. Say: he is beautiful,
    serenely beautiful, yet, only ephemerally so.
Say: Her Majesty combs her long black hair for hours.
    Say: O rainbows, in his eyes, rainbows.
Say: O frills and fronds, I know you
    Mr. Snail Consciousness,
O foot plodding the underside of leaves.
    Say: I am nothing without you, nothing,
Ms. Lookeast, Ms. Lookeast,
    without you, I am utterly empty.
Say: the small throat of sorrow.
    Say: China and France, China and France.
Say: Beauty and loss, the dross of centuries.
    Say: Nothing in their feudal antechamber
shall relinquish us of our beauty—
    Say: Mimosa—this is not a marriage song (epithalamion).
Say: when I was a young girl in Hong Kong
    a prince came on a horse, I believe it was piebald.
O dead prince     dead dead prince     who paid for my ardor.
    Say: O foot     O ague     O warbling oratorio . . .
Say: Darling, use “love” only as a transitive verb
    for the first forty years of your life.
Say: I have felt this before, it’s soft, human.
    Say: my love is a fragile concertina.
Say: you always love them in the beginning,
    then, you take them to slaughter.
O her coarse whispers     O her soft bangs.
    By their withers, they are emblazoned doppelgangers.
Say: beauty and terror, beauty and terror.
    Say: the house is filled with perfume,
dancing sonatinas and pungent flowers.
    Say: houses filled with combs     combs     combs
and the mistress’ wan ankles.
    Say: embrace the An Lu Shan ascendancy
and the fantastical diaspora of tears.
    Say: down blue margins
my inky love runs. Tearfully,
    tearfully, the pearl concubine runs.
There is a tear in his left eye—sadness or debris?
    Say: reverence to her, reverence to her.
Say: I am a very small boy, a very small boy.
    I am a teeny weeny little boy
who yearns to be punished.
    Say: I can’t live without you
Head Mistress, Head Mistress,
    I am a little lamb, a consenting little lamb.
I am a sheep without his fold.
    Say: God does not exist and hell is other people—
And Mabel, can’t we get out of this hotel?
    Say: Gregor Samsa—someone in Tuscaloosa
thinks you’re magnifico, she will kiss
    your battered cheek, embrace your broken skull.
Is the apple half eaten or half whole?
    Suddenly, he moves within me, how do I know
that he is not death, in death there is
 
    certain / / caesura.
 
Say: there is poetry in his body, poetry
    in his body, yes, say:
this dead love, this dead love,
    this dead, dead love, this lovely death,
this white percale, white of hell, of heavenly shale.
    Centerfolia . . . say: kiss her sweet lips.
Say: what rhymes with “flower”:
    “bower,” “shower,” “power”?
I am that yellow girl, that famished yellow girl
    from the first world.
Say: I don’t give a shit about nothing
    ’xcept my cat, your cock and poetry.
Say: a refuge between sleeping and dying.
    Say: to Maui     to Maui     to Maui
creeps in his petty pompadour.
    Day to day, her milk of human kindness
ran dry: I shall die of   jejune jujune     la lune la lune.
    Say: a beleaguered soldier, a fine arse had he.
Say: I have seen the small men of my generation
    rabid, discrete, hysterical, lilliput, naked.
Say: Friday is okay; we’ll have fish.
    Say: Friday is not okay; he shall die
of the measles near the bay.
    Say: Friday, just another savage
day until Saturday, the true Sabbath, when they shall
    finally stay.   Say:
                                          Sojourner
                                                                  Truth.
Say: I am dismayed by your cloying promiscuousness
    and fawning attitude.
Say: amaduofu, amaduofu.
    Say: he put cumin and tarragon in his stew.
Say: he’s the last wave of French Algerian Jews.
    He’s a cousin of Helene Cixous, twice removed.
Say: he recites the lost autobiography of Camus.
    Say: I am a professor from the University of Stupidity.
I cashed my welfare check and felt good.
    I saw your mama crossing the bridge of magpies
up on the faded hillock with the Lame Ox—
    Your father was conspicuously absent.
Admit that you loved your mother,
    that you killed your father to marry your mother.
Suddenly, my terrible childhood made sense.
    Say: beauty and truth, beauty and truth,
all ye need to know on earth all ye need to know.
    Say: I was boogying down, boogying down
Victoria Peak Way and a slip-of-a-boy climbed off his ox:
    he importuned me for a kiss, a tiny one
on his cankered lip.
    Say: O celebrator     O celebrant
of a blessed life, say:
    false     fleeting     hopes.
Say: despair, despair, despair.
    Say: Chinawoman, I am a contradiction in terms:
I embody frugality and ecstasy.
    Friday Wong died on a Tuesday.
O how he loved his lambs.
    He was lost in their sheepfold.
Say: another mai tai before your death.
    Another measure     another murmur     before your last breath.
Another boyfriend, Italianesque.
    Say: Save. Exit.
Say: I am the sentence which shall at last elude her.
    Oh, the hell of heaven’s girth, a low mound from here . . .
Say:
    Oh, a mother’s vision of the emerald hills draws down her brows.
Say: A brush of jade, a jasper plow furrow.
    Say: ####00000xxxxx!!!!
 
Contemplate     thangs     cerebral     spiritual     open     stuff     reality
   by definition     lack     any     spatial     extension
we occupy     no space     and     are     not     measurable
   we do not move     undulate     are not in     perpetual motion
where     for example     is thinking     in the head?     in my vulva?
 
   whereas     in my female lack of penis?     Physical
thangs     spatial extensions     mathematically     measurable
   preternaturally     possible     lack bestial     vegetable     consciousness
lack     happiness     lackluster     lack     chutzpah     lack     love
 
Say: A scentless camellia bush bloodied the afternoon.
   Fuck this line, can you really believe this?
When did I become the master of suburban bliss?
    With whose tongue were we born?
The language of the masters is the language of the aggressors.
    We’ve studied their cadence carefully—
enrolled in a class to improve our accent.
    Meanwhile, they hover over, waiting for us to stumble . . .
to drop an article, mispronounce an R.
    Say: softly, softly, the silent gunboats glide.
O onerous sibilants, O onomatopoetic glibness.
    Say:
How could we write poetry in a time like this?
    A discipline that makes much ado about so little?
Willfully laconic, deceptively disguised as a love poem.
 
Say:
Your engorging dict-
atorial flesh
grazed mine.
 
Would you have loved me more if I were black?
    Would I have loved you more if you were white?
And you, relentless Sinophile,
    holding my long hair, my frayed dreams.
 
My turn to objectify you.
    I, the lunatic, the lover, the poet,
the face of an orphan static with flies,
    the scourge of the old world,
which reminds us—it ain’t all randy dandy
    in the new kingdom
 
Say     rebuke     descry
 
Hills and canyons, robbed by sun, leave us nothing.

“Rhapsody in Plain Yellow,” from Rhapsody in Plain Yellow by Marilyn Chin. Copyright © 2002 by Marilyn Chin. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002)

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Poet Marilyn Chin b. 1955

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects Living, Marriage & Companionship, The Body, The Mind, Love, Relationships, Men & Women, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Poetry & Poets, Reading & Books, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Marilyn  Chin

Biography

Poet Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Oregon, in the U.S. Northwest. A noted anthologist, translator and educator as well as a poet and novelist, Chin’s work distills her experiences both as an Asian American and as a politically attuned woman. Her poetry is noted for its direct and often confrontational attitude. “The pains of cultural assimilation infuse her…poems,” wrote Contemporary Women Poets essayist . . .

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