Poetry Sunday:
“Bamboo, the Dance,” by Marilyn Chin

[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published March 31, 2019]


Bamboo, the Dance         

How free and lush the bamboo grows, the bamboo grows and grows
Shoots and morasses, fillies and lassies and shreds and beds and rows
O phloem and pistil, nodes and ovules
…..The bamboo grows and grows
Her release, her joy, her oil, her toil, her moxie, her terror, her swirl
Dig deeper into soil, deeper into her soul, what do you find in my girl
Thrash of black hair and silken snare, face in the bottom of the world
Bound by ankles, poor deer, poor sow, O delicate hooves and fascicles
…..Dead doe, dead doe, dead doe
Wrists together, searing red tethers, blood draining from her soles
…..O choir, O psalm, O soaring fearsome tabernacle
The bamboo grows, the bamboo grows and grows
Through antlers and eyeholes, O sweet soul, O sweet, sweet soul

Thin green tails, purple entrails, the bamboo grows and grows
She flailed and wailed through flimsy veils, through bones and hissing marrow
Nobody to hear her, but wind and chaff, a gasp, then letting go
They loved her, then stoned her, buried her near her ancestors
…..My mother, my sister, my soul

Shimmering mesh, a brocade sash, hanging on a distant oracle
Springboks dance on shallow mounds, echoes, echoes, echoes


Reprinted from Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems, by Marilyn Chin. © 2018, 2014, 2009, 2002, 1987 by Marilyn Chin. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.


Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon. Her books have become Asian-American classics and are taught in classrooms internationally. She is currently celebrating the launch of her new book, A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton 2018). Chin’s other books of poems include Hard Love Province, Rhapsody in Plain Yellow, Dwarf Bamboo, and The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty. Her book of wild girl fiction is called Revenge of The Mooncake Vixen. She has won numerous awards, including the Anisfield Wolf Book Award, the United States Artist Foundation Award, the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at Bellagio, two NEAs, the Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, five Pushcart Prizes, a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan, a Lannan Residency, and others. She is featured in a variety of anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry, and The Best American Poetry. She was featured in Bill Moyers’ PBS series The Language of Life, and Poetry Everywhere, introduced by Garrison Keillor. She has read and taught workshops all over the world. She was recently guest poet at universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manchester, Sydney, Berlin, Iowa, and elsewhere. In addition to writing poetry and fiction, she has translated poems by the Chinese poets Ai Qing and Ho Xuan Huong and co-translated poems by the Japanese poet Gozo Yoshimasu. Currently she is professor emerita at San Diego State University and serves as a chancellor for the Academy of American Poets. Her website is here.


Poet’s Note

“Bamboo, the Dance” was written for the Terezin Music Foundation for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. The dead doe image comes from a folk song in the Shijing (Book of Odes), the oldest anthology of Chinese poetry, dating to around 1100-600 B.C. It is written in fugue form to commemorate Paul Celan’s famous “Death Fugue.” I wrote about twenty fugue-like pieces and saved only this one, for I believed that I must publish only the most profound poem to honor the occasion.

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