So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin, married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong, granddaughter of Jack "the patriarch" and the brooding Suilin Fong, daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong and G.G. Chin the infamous, sister of a dozen, cousin of a million, survived by everybody and forgotten by all.
This stanza is written as a eulogy, a speech that's usually given about someone at their funeral after they've passed away. The speaker imagines what would be said about her if she'd died. Anyone want to bet that it's a bunch of compliments?
Yeah, you're right. It's all negative. Because these lines are written as a eulogy, the speaker talks about herself in the third person. She refers to her (multiple) marriages and lists her family relationships. The speaker imagines that she will be "survived by everybody [in her family] and forgotten by all." That's quite a bummer of a send-off.
She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove minding her poetry—
There's another reference to race here. The speaker, still speaking about herself in the third person, describes herself as "neither black nor white." Being Chinese she's neither.
The speaker continues, saying that she was also "neither cherished nor vanquished." By referring to herself as "neither black nor white,/ neither cherished nor vanquished" the speaker points to the ambiguity of her identity.
She's in between the black and white races, and in between love and hate, just as she is in between China and America. It all sounds pretty uncomfortable.
The speaker describes herself as a "squatter in her own bamboo grove/ minding her poetry." A "squatter" is a person who doesn't have a home and who "squats," or takes over, someone else's home. So here the speaker reveals that the location of her "home" is unclear; she's not fully at home either in China or America.
The image of the "bamboo grove" here recalls the notion of roots—and setting down roots—somewhere. All the same, it doesn't seem to be making this speaker feel any more at ease.
The line "minding her poetry" brings up the importance of poetry in helping the speaker make sense of her identity. So maybe there's some hope there? Let's see if this poem finishes up on a positive note…
when one day heaven was unmerciful, and a chasm opened where she stood. Like the jowls of a mighty white whale, or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla, it swallowed her whole.
Sorry, gang—no hope here. In fact, when Godzilla shows up, you can pretty much count on the opposite.
We're told that the speaker died because "one day" "a chasm opened where she stood" and "swallowed her whole."
Was this an earthquake? More likely, the "chasm" that the speaker refers to can be understood as a metaphor. It refers to the gap, or conflict, between her Chinese culture and her American culture.
In these lines we can also see the speaker using a couple of similes. She compares the "chasm" that eats her to the "jowls of a mighty white whale" (that's a reference to the "white whale" in Herman Melville's novelMoby-Dick) or "the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla."
"Metaphysical Godzilla" is not only a great band name (dibs), but it also reinforces the idea that this death is a more of a spiritual suffering, not an actual demise. The speaker's divided sense of self is like a huge, angry, nuclear lizard that breathes fire.
She did not flinch nor writhe, nor fret about the afterlife, but stayed! Solid as wood, happily a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized by all that was lavished upon her and all that was taken away!
The speaker, still talking about herself in the third person—and in the past tense—describes her courageous reaction to being swallowed up by the chasm. The speaker doesn't "flinch nor writhe" in the face of the big hole that swallows her up. She's strong, as "solid as wood."
Remember that she's still describing her figurative suffering and death here, the result of her conflicted cultural identity.
The speaker uses the literary device of simile in describing herself as "solid as wood," even though she's been "gnawed" a bit by those figurative evil beavers of her life experiences.
The last three lines of the poem point to the paradox of the immigrant experience. A lot is "taken away" from the speaker as a result of her parent's decision to come to America. But a lot is also "lavished upon her" as a result. In other words, she was enriched by her experience of coming to America, even though she lost a lot, too. Even at the end, our speaker is divided about her experience.