KR OnlinePoetry

Turtle Soup

From The Kenyon Review, New Series, Fall 1991, Vol. XIII, No.4

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 4,000 years, swam
the Wei, 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?

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Marilyn Chin is the author of Hard Love Province (2014) and Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (2009) among other titles. Her writing has appeared in the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. She has won numerous awards for her poetry, including five Pushcart Prizes, and has taught in a variety of workshops. In addition to writing poetry and fiction, she has translated poems by the modern Chinese poet Ai Qing and by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu.