Chinese Quatrains (The Woman in Tomb 44)

The aeroplane is shaped like a bird
Or a giant mechanical penis
My father escorts my mother
From girlhood to unhappiness

A dragonfly has iridescent wings
Shorn, it’s a lowly pismire
Plucked of arms and legs
A throbbing red pepperpod

Baby, she’s a girl
Pinkly propped as a doll
Baby, she’s a pearl
An ulcer in the oyster of God

Cry little baby clam cry
The steam has opened your eyes
Your secret darkly hidden
The razor is sharpening the knife

Abandoned taro-leaf boat
Its lonely black sail broken
The corpses are fat and bejeweled
The hull is thoroughly rotten

The worm has entered the ear
And out the nose of my father
Cleaned the pelvis of my mother
And ringed around her fingerbone

One child beats a bedpan
One beats a fishhook out of wire
One beats his half sister on the head
Oh, teach us to fish and love

Don’t say her boudoir is too narrow
She could sleep but in one cold bed
Don’t say you own many horses
We escaped on her skinny mare’s back

Man is good said Meng-Tzu
We must cultivate their natures
Man is evil said Hsun-Tzu
There’s a worm in the human heart

He gleaned a beaded purse from Hong Kong
He procured an oval fan from Taiwan
She married him for a green card
He abandoned her for a blonde

My grandmother is calling her goslings
My mother is summoning her hens
The sun has vanished into the ocean
The moon has drowned in the fen

Discs of jade for her eyelids
A lozenge of pearl for her throat
Lapis and kudzu in her nostrils
They will rob her again and again

“Chinese Quatrains (The Woman in Tomb 44),” 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)