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Stone Pillow: New and Collected Poems: “Apertures”

I was just looking at Flickr photos that I snapped during a trip to Lanzhou in Gansu Province, China. It has been a couple of years since I took what was a life changing journey over the Yellow River and along the Silk Road. Gansu is the China I most love–sorry Guangzhou–with its dozens of ethnic groups. Despite its terrific poverty it is with rife with Confucian, Taoist and rich Buddhist temple bells and beautiful, delicate relics from Qing, Ming and Sui dynasties; and many of them can be found only a few meters from each other. And then there are the dozens of poems cradled in the giant Buddha’s arms and a countryside recites them in a different voice every spectacular season.

The pictures called to mind a poem I wrote a few years ago about how love for a person or place remains perfect, and  young even as we move through our inescapable developmental phases.

Apertures

I was just looking

through a photo album

one of those musty, three-tiered

prison blocks full of parents

slowly leaning away from each other

and children running at a standstill:

escaping more perfunctory poses.

There is one of you

just after I read you that poem

by another writer

about a woman

with your votive smile, inner nakedness

and a mid-afternoon firestorm in her hair

that he wished he had touched.

He told me once, his faced engraved

with regret, that he visits her often now,

though he didn’t attend the funeral.

When we first met

I heard

still hear your body

moving under your clothes:

the long felt silence of a temple bell.

Behind you, curtains were whispering

like nylons.

Why is it

that we capture ourselves

sometimes forever

in a flat semblance of the truth?

It is why

in pictures of me I am alone

standing outside my heart

with nothing for me to compare

until the day I’m holding you,

in a portrait with more

than a passion of intention,

and with a look as serious as a kiss.

American Professor in China,China Expat,Chinese Monks,Confucius Slept Here,Gansu,Heartsongs,Lanzhou,love,Personal Notes,Photos,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Travel in China,中国

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Stone Pillow: New and Selected Poems “Fishing for the Moon”

Poet Li Young-Lee has often spoken of certain works as “quarrels” with his father. Many of mine, like Fishing… fall into the same category. Studies have been done that imply that the post-death emotional impact of a family member’s passing is far greater for those who had a strained relationship with the deceased.

My father was, at various times in his life someone easy to quarrel with because we were nothing alike. It was a long time in coming that I really believed, and not as an apologetic attempt at self-delusion, he did as best he could with what nature and nurture had given him. Life was not easy: He spent his teen years in a Masonic sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis during the Great Depression before joining a traveling carnival where he worked as a roustabout before heading off to WWII in the infantry.

When he died ironically there was only one person, other than me and my mother, who viewed his body at the funeral home. Ironically, it was his fishing partner, a black man several years my father’s senior. The two of them would sit for hours without saying a word to each other. It is only now that I am awed by the quiet simplicity in both of them and I often lament being cursed with far too much formal education. How wonderful it would be to spend a day with my only ambition being to carry home a creel of fish to a faithful wife who valued food and survival skills far more than money or talk.

This poem was written while I was studying for my MFA. My daughter loved the early drafts as much as she loved my father.  She hated the deconstructed versions that academic critique groups foisted me, an insecure writer.  I have since tried to give it back some of its original emotional charge while not handing it over to sentimentality or subjective shorthand.

bk10

Fishing for the Moon
On the lake’s granite surface

The moon’s blind eye kept watch

As small stars, silver lights, fell.

Lures cast by my father that would raise

My sleepy head  and I would listen

For fish that would wound the calm,

Flare into the enormous night air,

and fight him reeling them toward shore.

One night, in my late teens,

An indecisive breeze touched us both:

I remember the familiar odor of age,

Cigar ashes rubbed into overalls,

And Lucky Tiger hair balm on a black

Forever military scalp.

At thirty-five or so, I tried to quit my ascensions

Away from tobacco farmer beginnings:

Theology, the military (but as an officer of course)

And accepted I was no match for the tattooed arms

And yielded to the strength of experience,

His eighth-grade smugness, and the once embarrassing

Southern vowels and long lines that could coax

Fishing tackle to scribble success across a lake.

I walked the reservoir’s circumference

The night he died and listened to icy respirations

Give in to winter. Drowning in his own fluid,

He sometimes smiled: a delirious toothless smile,

Like he had just landed a keeper.

I remember promising, no lying, in the nursing home

To him that I would take him fishing again.

But, he died before I knew how bad I would feel.

His eyes went white: turned inside, toward the water,

While his naked fingers would query the deep, dry pocket

Left from the injury: the Vietnam head wound.

It was a year after the seizures

That his arms fell limp at his sides

And the man who could not read anything

Except inland tides and solunar tables

Lay helpless in a hard bed.

They say it was pneumonia.

I say it was the lake claiming him

Where I returned his ashes: reticent,

Swirling near the bank they ebbed

Toward the center, where I cast

Lure after lure, fishing for the moon.

Personal Notes,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Uncategorized,Vietnam,War

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Stone Pillow: New and Selected Poems

The only Photograph of Her Affair


Her husband believes it’s a mistake

Yet wonders why she holds on

To what appears to be nothing

More than a tree, small bit of sky

And a tangle of shadows below.

She tells him an unconscious bump

Must have snapped the shutter

On what could be

morning or evening anywhere

Women are vigilant

and men so quickly distracted

She believes he’ll never know

That her lover is near

And she sits, back against a plum tree

With a flower print skirt

Tucked between white thighs,

Soft blonde threads glistening

With dew, and a delirious heat rising

from the tender grass below

There were tiny birds above

Deep in an anarchy of leaves

And limbs. And hungry mouths

Made small cries. The unmistakable

Sounds of dawn or dusk.

–Lonnie Hodge

American Poet in China,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Uncategorized

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Stone Pillow (New and Collected Poems): The Clearing

The Clearing

–for EB (’94)

I wanted to turn your grief

to dew that deer carry

every morning from the safety

of thicket beds into sunrise

I would have gathered your face close to mine

and looked long into the deep worry

stones of your dark, well worn endurance

I could have embraced you

the way the deer seem to take turns

stepping ahead, watching

and browsing with cautious confidence

just ahead of sunrise

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,Poetry,Stone Pillow,Uncategorized

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Stone Pillow: New and Collected Poems 1994-2009

When poetry gets under your skin,even the breaking of daily bread becomes a nuisance until you get to paper and pen or a computer keyboard. To keep from going completely mad, I have decided to publish, between the usual stammering blog epistles from China, 70 of those nagging poems: some soaked in long shadows, a few needing work and hanging out in shivering constellations ahead of me, and a several new transcriptions of old voices that were drowned out by fear, silenced by critique (academics, out of habit can deconstruct an ego right along with a good piece of writing)  or those that I poorly deciphered  and committed to paper because I was an inexperienced translator of my own heart….

When I have them all placed here on OMBW, I will order them into as cohesive a collection as the myriad experiences of my life these past few years will allow and then offer them to you as a PDF. But, first things first: I just have to get them down on virtual paper. I hope you don’t mind.

I will start with one that some of you may have read before:  It is a poem that I first wrote to explain how I feel about a profession that has nourished me for three decades and was inspired in part by a visit to the Appalachian Mountains with three writing teachers on a retreat where where I finally really understood the quote by Jacques Barzu:In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work.  It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” He was talking about students and teachers…

Teaching

I want to be witches knees and elbows:
roots just barely visible enough above the ground
to stumble into a child’s imagination forever.

I want to be a breeze blowing through
a community of Aspen trees–barely forceful enough
to waken leaves, while not quieting the birds

I want to be the loneliness in the center of a Chinese Fiscus seed
dropped from some kid’s pocket at the Colorado Sand Dunes,
and everyone guessing how it is I came to be there.

American Poet in China,Poetry,Stone Pillow

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