Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chinese Seal

Carved from red stone, irregularly salmon,
smoothed into twin, conjoined bamboo shoots, 
the tallest two-inches or so high, a half-inch deep,
its rear a pebbled complexion of gray-red, a chromatic 
medley of sediment fostered together neither by bombs
nor armies but by a billion-year-pounding of 
stone against stone, of water against mountain, until 
one morning a human hand scooped up a rock, 
a red orchard on a beach, and with a burin carved 
in exquisite precision the seal I purchased in China—
not a sculpture but a utility, for when its bottom 
surface, flat as plank, is lowered carefully into a red 
pastellike ink and then pressed hard on paper, leaves 
a boss—not my name, not my mark, as it should, but 
instead Chinese characters engraved by the saleswoman 
that reads, Serve the People.

I, among the first Westerners to tour this once parcel
non grata, visited the Forbidden City, kowtowed at the toe
of the ponderous bronzed Mao, a Promethean monolith, 
uninhabitable like all monoliths, buttressing up the 
remnants of the romantic and incomprehensible 
Cultural Revolution during which scholars and artists, 
the deviationist free thinkers, were stripped down to 
intellectual skeletons or just skeletons because there 
were—let's admit it—shelves to be stocked with masses 
of dormant and unitemized narratives of despair, contagion, 
and torture—the striated flesh of the Chinese the colonists 
had divvied up like so many pelts until the Japanese 
organized an insurmountable bureaucracy action-oriented, 
simple, easily executed—decapitation, 
bowling-ball heads, metal bars inserted into vaginas, 
ripping women apart like roasted chickens—what fun, 
and one must have fun, and one must have discipline, 
and one must have eminence—this Samurai nation
—Kabuki, the Noh play (which I love dearly, from whom 
we now buy our superb cameras and cars, and some
made  in China?

Yeats wrote that through these tragedies poets are gay, 
not the word decimated by gays who are 
generally anything but gay, nor in its rudimentary
denotation—joyous—but in the sense of positive, visionary:
“All things fall and are built again
And those that build them again are gay.” 

The unmountainous terrain of my island—my bedrock 
quintessence, where tragedy is to be cauterized into a cenotaph
—one of the thousands memorializing this slaughter or that
—to be designed by poets who are congenitally gay, but those 
who construct them, with their tattooed cortices, will feed well, 
although they will not be gay, would be livid if noted as so,
in any sense, prefer wallowing in elemental revenge, which 
is easily dispensed, needs neither definition nor plan, merely 
a flag, a parlance, such as, United We Stand, but rest rooms 
for customers only.

But in a land where the peasants ate bark off the trees, 
such luxurious ferocity needed far greater returns, 
and those who returned them were gay.

To Serve the People seems a fruit that will never ripen, 
a pit to be infused into people, or to be paid for dearly
—that we should not address ourselves to the humanity
of the butcher, the brewer, the baker but to “their self-love, 
and never talk to them of our necessities but of  their 
advantage,” as Smith has written, as Galbraith has quoted.
“Innocent, I have now endured a whole year in prison.
Using my tears for ink, I turn my thoughts into verses,”
wrote Ho, and he was gay.

True, the common good can become remarkably common, 
can lead to its own spiritual effacement—silence, 
frustration the sole ordinances against “conventional wisdom,”
which are no ordinances at all. To be gay is to be indulgent, 
to be indulgent is to be too human, to be too human 
is to be a menace—“not all people get drunk because 
they are poets . . .” said Arthur in his movie, 
“many get drunk because they are not.” 

No, humanity is not ready for anything aggregate, 
has not evolved, and thus when Yeats says he would 
delight in imagining those lapis Chinamen, after ascending 
the dented mountain, one with a musical instrument, 
toward a halfway house most likely sweetened by plums 
or cherry branches, seating themselves and staring 
over the tragic scene, that one would ask for mournful 
melodies,and their eyes, “mid many wrinkles, 
their eyes, / their ancient, glittering eyes,” 
would be gay. 

A behavioral checklist, slogans, inoperable 
commandments, exhortations, rational conclusions 
from irrational premises . . . absurdities from the fingers
of a mountain, the original catastrophe repeated over and over,
is there remedy? “Whoever wants to know a thing 
has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, 
that is, by living in its environment,” wrote Mao. 
The stupefying inconsistencies, the murderous ignorance 
where to Serve the People one must be crazed, sentimental, 
threatened, or procuring salvation . . . history becomes 
asymmetrical, a disjointed procession of events, of names, 
not to be shouldered, not to be taught, not to be consumed, 
but to be altered, reconstituted. All that is recalled from 
the past are its wars and its art—in that order. 
And despite the hysterical woman who are sick 
“of the palette and fiddle-bow” and are continuously
looking for something drastic to be done, the poets, 
the carver of this bamboo seal, are always gay.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nothing Was Explained


I have few mementos, a watch, a bracelet,
a fear of the past, my mother pursuing me frantically
with a glass of milk, my mouth coated
with a while mucilage. I spat and spat.
It was the stroke of three and the bases
chalked on the tar with bits of stone.
Nothing back there, nothing, her short
palms over the candles, circling, mumbling,
a dishcloth balanced on the bun of her hair.

Exquisite feelings, like small lizards
in a terrarium, delicate teacups
in the fingers of old women,
their pale heads drifting
under blue-tinted cumulus clouds,
a flawless teardrop flowing surrealistically
up a hillside, there was none of that,
no, none of that.

There was death and thick foods,
yelling, impatience, mother
jabbing her religious forefinger
into the ribs of the pig—a disgruntled figure
whom I remember vaguely like a wrist
seen through a keyhole. She bathed me painfully,
sandpapering my face with a washcloth
till I shone like her silver.

The pullet submerged in water, salted, spanked
into cleanliness, boiled, the broken-down flesh
tasteless, a mouth-filler,
there must be more to her in my mind than
caricature. I hear my voice squawking
like a hornbill and I know she is with me.
I am not myself, I refuse. Complete victim, like her,
I have compassion for us all.
I'm not being unfair,
just asking, just asking.

I was a guest at her death, a foreigner,
and immigrant from down the hall.
I'm not quite sure what happened to either of us.
I look back through the distance,
the wolf dropping on my back,
the witch, the dead bodies,
the deep closet that went endlessly into nightmare—
contusions, pinpricks in my brain,
precedents for the woman's face
staring back at me through the empty window.

I'm tired of abusing.
I can see gravestones in all directions,
and infants, and thin children squinting in the sun.
The slipcover roses have blossomed,
the stuffed chairs have been freed.

She kept me spotless and healthy,
and held my forehead when I puked.
A thin slice of me is jeweled with raisins
and walnuts, and in my brain are recipes
for at least competent love.
I have so much to learn,
so much to recall . . . .

My finger has a slight cut on it, it throbs, 
but my palm is still open, although each hour
producing less and less.


(This poem was published in the final 
issue if Ironwood. The last lines here are
slightly different.)