Study Guide

How I Got That Name Stanza 3

By Marilyn Chin

Stanza 3

Lines 58-65

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another's profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one
may never, never marry.

  • This stanza begins with the speaker imagining "the Great Patriarch Chin" (the family forefather) peering down from heaven at his family. 
  • The speaker imagines that Patriarch Chin thinks that his descendants are ugly, one with a "squarish head" and another one with a profile that's "long and knobbed as a gourd." Ew. 
  • The speaker's description of a face with a profile that's "long and knobbed as a gourd" is an example of simile, albeit not a very pleasant one.

Lines 66-69

And I, his least favorite—
"not quite boiled, not quite cooked,"
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people's destiny.

  • Here the speaker imagines what Patriarch Chin thinks of her. It's not good. In fact, she thinks that she is "his least favorite" descendant. She must not enjoy cosmic family reunions, then.
  • In these lines, the speaker also uses a lot of cooking imagery. She imagines herself as "'not quite boiled, not quite cooked"/ a plump pomfret simmering in my juices." 
  • The cooking imagery works on two levels. On one level, it depicts the speaker as a kind of "food" that's undercooked or not quite cooked. This points to her own confused identity—she isn't quite American and she isn't quite Chinese. On another level, though, the fish (a "plump pomfret" is a fish, and an ugly fish at that) is depicted as simmering in the speaker's "juices." So what does she mean when she imagines this fish cooking in her "juices"? Well, to "stew in one's own juices" is a figurative expression meaning to brood, or dwell on something unpleasant. That's pretty much what the speaker's doing here, right?
  • When the speaker says that she's "too listless to fight for my people's destiny," she is imagining herself as a disappointment to her forebear, Patriarch Chin. She isn't energetic, she isn't doing anything useful for her "people." She sees herself as the family LVP (least valuable player).

Lines 70-73

"To kill without resistance is not slaughter"
says the proverb. So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

  • The speaker quotes a proverb: "To kill without resistance is not slaughter," and says she is waiting for death. Good times.
  • But she points out that she is not literally waiting for death. Instead, her death is metaphor, which apparently is further proof of her "lethargy," or laziness. These lines suggest that the speaker is very aware of the fact that she's a disappointment to her Chinese forbears. She's so lazy even her death is just a fantasy.

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