Have They Run Out of White Poems Yet?

A response to Calvin Trillin's "Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?" By Timothy Yu

"The Heathen Chinee"

Have they run out of white poems yet?
No! here's one more whose words we regret.
It began with the "heathen Chinee,"
Long ago, with his tricks up his sleeve.
That "John Chinaman," here from Canton,
Fed on puppies and rats all day long.
Then Exclusion enacted its song,
Making Chinese an illegal throng.
That's when Ezra Pound put into play
The exiles and sad wives of Cathay,
The chinoiserie Marianne Moore
Put in poems for all to adore.
While the Chinese was kept far away,
He adorned the best poems of the day.
So that’s maybe where I should begin:
When my family arrived from Fujian.
The country they found was now eager
For Chinese food, but not its people.
We='re now just a dish on the menu
For gourmets to sink their teeth into.

And still each day new poems appear,
Using laughter to cover their fear.
Could the China they love for its grace
Take them into its deathly embrace?
Yes, they sometimes do miss, they confess,
This Chinese-less China, God bless!
Which would never face them with its threat
Of its uncounted billions, unmet.
So they eat their chow mein with regret.
Have they run out of white poems yet?

Timothy Yu is the author of 100 Chinese Silences and Race and the Avant-Garde. He is associate professor of English and Asian American studies and director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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