Thaddeus Rutkowski's novel, Roughhouse (Kaya), was a finalist for the Members' Choice of the Asian Book Awards. He has taught fiction writing at the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA and the Asian American Writers' Workshop in New York.



Two Poems by Thaddeus Rutkowski


Hi. I'm Mr. White.
That's White, and I'm Wong.
We're here to discuss the difference between us, the difference between White and Wong.
That's White. We're going to get lots of attention for no reason.
That's Wong. We're going to make some interesting points.
Pure White. We're going to ask pointed questions, then ridicule the answers.
Utterly Wong. There is no answer, and that's the answer.
Almost White, but not quite. If you lean on the edge, on your chin and your elbows, you will see the answer where it lies, which is within.
Wong, Wong, Wong. If you see the answer, why ask pointed questions?
I'm losing track of the difference between White and Wong.
Wong again. The difference is as plain as day or night, or dusk and dawn.
All White. All White. I've been Wong-headed.
On the contrary, I've been Wonged.
Let's put things to Whites.
I know I'm White, and I think you're Wong. But remember: Two Wongs don't make a White.
Might makes White, or at least it might, if you don't go Wong.
Some Wongs will never be Whites.
The White side of my brain says, "White," but the Wong side tells me, "Wong."
Wong you are. There is no absolute White or Wong.
If you're White, can we both be Wong?


The name is Thaddeus, but the choice of the name was ill-advised, I think. No doubt my parents wanted something classical, or something radical. Oedipus and Orpheus would not do, and Theodore and Thelonius would not, either. So my father decided. My mother, it seems, did not have much say in the matter. She picked Xiao Lin, which means Little Forest and sounds something like her first name, Chia In, which means Good Tidings. But I don't go by Xiao Lin. What I go by is a little stranger.

To many people, I am Thad, which is easy to spell and fairly easy to say, unless you think it's Fab, as in "Oh Fab, I'm glad, they put real Borax in you!" My first and middle initials, J.T., are even easier, so I use them when I make reservations, arrange for deliveries, or sign my name on lists. One of my old friends calls me J.T., except for the times he calls me Stud. Other people I know call me T-Bone. Some of my friends think T-Bone is too casual, but I like it better than Fazool, or Pube, which are the nicknames of other guys I know. I have not been called Tadpole for a long while, but an old girlfriend used to call me A. Tad, which was short for A. Tad Stoned. Some of my close relatives still call me Tad, but so far no one else has adopted the shortest form.

When I meet people and tell them my name is Thaddeus, they say, "That sounds like a Biblical name," or "That sounds like a nineteenth-century name," or "That sounds like a plumber's name." Sometimes my new friends take an initiative and shrink my name to Chaddy, Teddy or Patty, or Chad, Ted or Pat. For a while, people in my office confused me with another Asian guy who looked like me and called him Thad and me Henry.

My last name is no less problematic. Rutkowski just does not fit my face. At times, however, to my great surprise I pass for Eastern European. Someday, I might change my last name to my mother's maiden name, which is simpler and more descriptive, and become Mr. Wong.