Finally, four months (!) after our Scarriet 2012 March Madness Tournament began, we have our Final Four: Ben Mazer, Derek Walcott, Stephen Dunn, and now, Marilyn Chin or Sharon Olds. I don’t know about you, but we’re exhausted. Without much ado, then, we present the wry, witty Miss Chin against the exquisitely passionate, Ms. Olds:
for Ben Huang
You go home one evening tired from work,
and your mother boils you turtle soup.
Twelve hours hunched over the hearth
(who knows what else is in that cauldron).
You say, “Ma, you’ve poached the symbol of long life;
that turtle lived four thousand years, swam
the Wet, up the Yellow, over the Yangtze.
Witnessed the Bronze Age, the High Tang,
grazed on splendid sericulture.”
(So, she boils the life out of him.)
“All our ancestors have been fools.
Remember Uncle Wu who rode ten thousand miles
to kill a famous Manchu and ended up
with his head on a pole? Eat, child,
its liver will make you strong.”
“Sometimes you’re the life, sometimes the sacrifice.”
Her sobbing is inconsolable.
So, you spread that gentle napkin
over your lap in decorous Pasadena.
Baby, some high priestess has got it wrong.
The golden decal on the green underbelly
says “Made in Hong Kong.”
Is there nothing left but the shell
and humanity’s strange inscriptions,
the songs, the rites, the oracles?
Sometimes I can almost see, around our heads,
Like gnats around a streetlight in summer,
The children we could have,
The glimmer of them.
Sometimes I feel them waiting, dozing
In some antechamber – servants, half-
Listening for the bell.
Sometimes I see them lying like love letters
In the Dead Letter Office
And sometimes, like tonight, by some black
Second sight I can feel just one of them
Standing on the edge of a cliff by the sea
In the dark, stretching its arms out
Desperately to me.
It’s hard to declare a winner, here—both poems are marvelous. The poignancy is below the surface in Chin’s poem and full-blown in the Olds.
Marilyn Chin 68, Sharon Olds 67
MARILYN CHIN UPSETS SHARON OLDS!!!