Maureen Ten (Ten Ch'in U)
In this highly personal poem, Ten describes the emotional experience of rediscovering a gift she received from her grandfather as a child. She reflects how at first, she was unbothered by the gift, and gave her attention instead to the gift her mother gave her at the same time, which ‘sparkled and sang.’ None of her family members pushed her to be more appreciative of her grandfather’s gift, and so it was soon forgotten.
The second stanza depicts Ten’s rediscovery of the gift, and how she ‘retrieved his gift from the silence’ as an adult. The imagery she uses to describe the strangeness of the gift, ‘as if from a world I hadn’t inhabited,’ demonstrates the lack of connection she shares with her culture, while at the same time foreshadowing the role of the gift as a vehicle by which she may reconnect to that aforementioned culture. It was as a result of this disconnect that she now feels like ‘an imposter.’ It is by rediscovering the gift, the ‘translucent jade’ necklace for which the poem is named, that Ten is able to see the extent to which she has distanced herself from her culture. The necklace acts as a device that allows her to see her ancestral and cultural heritage clearly.
Ten’s confrontation of that uncertainty is embodied in the recurring use of rhetorical questions in the final stanza of her poem. Her questioning of whether the necklace belongs to her, or she to it, is a powerful reflection on the nature of the relationship between culture and identity, and the way in which one informs the other.
The Power of Nostalgia and Memory
From the outset of her poem, Ten paints a complex portrait of the sense of disconnection and uncertainty she experiences as a result of not having a full sense of self. The titular ‘translucent jade’ serves to remind her of her ancestral and cultural heritage, and while she is excited by its capacity to do so, she remains sceptical and ambivalent, asking ‘Does this begin to become me, / Do I to it belong?’ Indeed, though Ten progresses from being unsure of her cultural and ancestral heritage to forming a more complete sense of identity by interacting with a symbolic token from her past, the conclusion of her poem still affirms the complexity of hybrid identities.
“This translucent, slowly-yielding music / Chinese name.”
Audial imagery, Truncated sentence
What vibrations are these? / Does this begin to become me, / do I to it belong?
Cultural engagement and connection
“Sometimes I felt an imposter”
Difficulties of cultural negotiation
“It was a little strange, / as if from a world I hadn’t inhabited but had heard stories about”
“Common in its place of origin”
Cultural and family heritage
“Flashed in view .. sparkled and sung”