The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Translations” is a poem in three parts that considers the ways in which provocatively descriptive language influences and reflects attitudes toward cultural communities located outside of conventional representations of life in the United States. Speaking with the thoughtful, reflective voice that is characteristic of his work, Wing Tek Lum begins the poem with the word “Ghosts,” a focal point for an exploration of the manner in which the terminology chosen by a people to describe themselves may differ significantly from the words used by outsiders to refer to them. The first lines of the poem recall the innocent pleasure of a child’s delight in the thrill of the supernatural, a series of images evoking the harmless fun of “running around in/ old bedsheets,” enjoying the reassuring comic-book fantasy of the friendly Caspar, and then “marveling at/ the trick/ camerawork” in a television show about Cosmo G. Topper. These familiar, pleasant vignettes from popular culture are placed in sharp contrast with Lum’s adult perspective on ghosts as the second section of part 1 begins with the word Gwái, a Chinese term for “demon” or “devil.” The transition to a term loaded with negative connotations introduces a darker, more sinister element to the poem, which Lum amplifies by references to “Shaw Brothers horror/ films” and “rites of exorcism” before concluding the section with a cryptic comment about “Old Demons who wear/ white...

(The entire section is 507 words.)