Chinese Silence No. 22

after Billy Collins, "Monday"

The Italians are making their pasta,
the French are making things French,
and the Chinese cultivate their silence.
They cultivate silence
in every Chinatown on the persimmon of earth—
mute below the towers of Toronto,
silently sweeping the streets of Singapore
clear of noisy self-expression.
The Americans are in their sport utility vehicles,
the Canadians are behaving reasonably,
but the Chinese remain silent
maybe with a cup of tea or an opium pipe
and maybe a finger puzzle or water torture is involved.
Or maybe the Chinese are playing the Chinese
game of ping-pong,
the pock-pock of the ball against their tight-lipped mouths
as their chefs dice scallions and bean curd.
The Chinese are silent
because it is their job for which
I pay them what they got for building the railroads.
Which silence it is hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite
out of the 100 different kinds—
the Silence of the Well-Adjusted Minority,
the Girlish Silence of Reluctant Acquiescence,
the Silence that by No Means Should Be Mistaken for Bitterness.
By now, it should go without saying
that what Crocodile Dundee is to the Australian
and Mel Gibson is to the Scot,
so is silence to the Chinese.
Just think—
before I invented the 100 Chinese silences,
the Chinese would have had to stay indoors
and gabble about civil war and revolution
or go outside and build a really loud wall.
And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall of thousands of miles
that is visible from the moon.
I mean a noisy wall of language
that dwarfs my medieval battlements
and paves the Pacific to lap
California’s shores with its brick-hard words.

Timothy Yu, "Chinese Silence No. 22" from 100 Chinese Silences. Copyright © 2016 by Timothy Yu. Reprinted by permission of Les Figues Press.
Source: 100 Chinese Silences (Les Figues Press, 2016)
More Poems by Timothy Yu