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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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The Monk in the Sycamore Tree

Shanghai and Beijing have enviable expatriate communities; many long term residents of China from other countries live, and foster social connections across cultural boundaries. Unless you are an young, resilient, party animal or a consular type, Guangzhou, with a few exceptions, can feel  uncomfortably transient and fragmented. That is why many have told me they hope for Web Wednesday to build on its first successful meeting of Chinese and Foreign Internet professionals.

That is all to say that a visit from an old friend, especially a gentle , deep-thinking one who always breaks up the unceasing rhythms of this hurried, harried immigrant workshop town for me. when he is around I happily feel cobwebs clearing on internal scaffolds of old dreams and aspirations.

He he is a Buddhist monk, 小双 (Xiao Shuang) who goes by the English name of Zachias. Zachias was the Tax Collector described in Christian literature as the man who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Jesus Christ. 小双 actually chose his name after hearing a lecture of mine on Trappist/Benedictine monk and prolific writer Thomas Merton. I was talking about Merton’s last journey  before his death. He traveled to Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama in his quest to discover the true waters of religious thought he believed flowed from mainsprings the east. Merton had given his lifer to solitude believing that the distractions of the secular prevented a clear view of the spiritual. But, at that point in his life he also thought that the notion of complete segregation as practiced in his monastery created an illusion of holiness. Holiness is something in the distance and one rises above the crowd to witness it, to be guided by it, not to achieve it.

Writer Edward Rice would later call Merton, in a book by the same name, The Man in the Sycamore Tree.  Xiao Shuang aspires to be like Merton who is thought to have been a reincarnation of the Buddha by many Tibetan and Indian practitioners: He aspires to be a seeker of truth, not a symbol of reverence. And I aspire to adequately chronicle our talks of 25 years just as Rice did with his beloved friend Merton. In our two and a half decades of campanionship and cooperative learning we have never once argued. We have talked about everything from existential phenomenology to our mutual love for the Chicago Cubs.

Today we spoke of the Russian decision to commit troops to combat during the Olympics and actions of an American zealot in China for what has been called a “pseudo-guerrilla protest” on behalf of Tibetan Independence.

On both the conflict in Georgia and the missionary known as “iamgadfly”  he quoted Merton:

“While non-violence is regarded as somehow sinister, vicious, and evil, violence has manifold acceptable forms in which it is not only tolerated, but approved by American society.”

He viewed, as do I, both acts as unacceptable and violent: Russia violated a long-held moratorium against violence during the games; imagadfly purportedly was “giving a voice to the voiceless” when he vandalized upscale hotel rooms in Beijing, covered the walls in pro-independence slogans.

Zachias holds that a few obscure slogans in a hotel room, even broadcast on Youtube, could do nothing more than raise some angry voices in a country that recently received hundreds of hours of approved television instruction in Tibetan culture following the recent riots.  Ifimagadfly thought the Tibetans could not be heard before, he should imagine the din and roar resulting from his actions. Merton believed that the prayers issuing from his Abbey were powerful enough to effect world change. Zachias and I tend to believe, like CS Lewis, that prayer has more influence over the petitioner than the petitioned. At the risk of sounding opposed to human rights protests, we are both sure, and think Merton would agree, that delivering supplications to a deity as you commit a crime in a foreign country is unlikely to create a spiritual  butterfly effect for Tibet.

Beijing,Beijing Olympics,Censorship,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Expat,China Law,China Olympics,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Chinese Monks,Confucius Slept Here,Global Voices Online,Human Rights,Human Rights China,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,The Internet,Tibet,Twitter,Uncategorized,Videos,Violence,War,中国,中文,小双

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Comfort Women Comforting Themselves…

I was blogroll diving and stumbeled across an entry on Chinese Chic  a wonderfful blog from Down Under written by a talented and insightful Chinese-Malaysian  law student.

I wept in awe and admiration for the courageous healing ritual described in Ms Peng’s post:

Taiwanese women forced into prostitution by Japan’s military more than six decades ago put on wedding gowns Tuesday to celebrate the nuptials they never had.
The women are part of a shrinking group of “comfort women” — forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s military — in several parts of Asia during World War II.
After Japan ended its 50-year occupation of Taiwan in 1945, many of the women were rejected as “damaged goods” by their relatives and never found a spouse, said the Women’s Rescue Foundation, the rights group which organized Tuesday’s event.
Six women — ranging in age from 82 to 90 — came together in Taipei to put on white wedding dresses, hold bouquets and have their pictures taken.
“People of our age didn’t dare dream of having a wedding, but now the day has come, and I like it a lot,” said Wu Hsiu-mei, the oldest member of the group.
Taiwan has 28 of the women left, with an average age of 84….”

Chinese brides

Asian Humor,Human Rights,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Japan,Photos,Top Blogs,War,中国,中文

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Memorial Day

memorial day

As part of his therapy while trying to recover from a head wound suffered in Vietnam my father used to make the poppies that the American Legion sells on Memorial day.

Here is the poem that was written three years after the famous In Flanders Fields that most of us know….

We Shall Keep the Faith
by Moina Michael, November 1918

Oh! you who sleep
in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead
.Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Retrieved from an earlier post:

I had the chance to mountain climb with an aging PRC Army Veteran of Tibet and Tiananmen Square. He had that “thousand yard stare” soldiers who have been amidst senseless death can see in the eyes of another.

Years ago, as a corpsman at the Army’s Academy of Health Sciences, I was almost detailed to collect bodies in the Jonestown Massacre. Many of my friends went and are forever changed. I know medics, who went to Vietnam as conscientious objectors, and came back morphine addicted. It was one way, albeit not a good one, to cope.

Soldiers and Paramedics in New York, Iraq and New Orleans have acknowledged that there was a self before the tragedies and a different human, with a different world-view, that emerged from the devastation.

When most of the school children of a Chinese rural village, dozens, drowned in their classrooms, and left these hand prints on the windows trying to escape, it was the army who first saw the prints and then had to search through the mud for their bodies….

HANDS

When I traveled, during Vietnam, in uniform I was vilified by many as part of the Military Industrial Complex. I did not get too many salutes.

As the war becomes more unpopular in Iraq, as the world increasingly calls us a police state, remember this: Governments declare war. Officials deploy troops. Hurricanes and earthquakes obey no warnings. And it is the soldier, and the victim, who carry with them, forever, the stench of death. It is like a house fire: you can never seem to rid yourself of the smell of smoke.

Love the soldier. They all write poetry and letters of longing home to their loved ones.

Hate the war, hate the floods, hate the notion that we are not close to getting it right, socially or environmentally, just yet.

Pray for the men, like my father, and soldiers of all nations who gave up sleepless nights and often, like my father, their lives, before and after battles, for you and the missions that they were asked to fulfill.

Salute them all with words and deeds today.

With special good wishes to the Wed. Heroes crew/blogroll. Most of you are not accessible from China, so I cannot get to you and often cannot receive mail or link out to you properly. Keep up the good work.

cartoons,Holidays,Homeland Security,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Poetry,Tibet,Veterans,Vietnam,Violence,War,中国,中文

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Soldier to Soldier….

thank a vet

A break from China news today brought on by an email from Lone Star Pundit.

Yes, I personally have opposed the war in Iraq since its inception, but as a disabled veteran and the son of a fallen hero I do my best to support the men and women placed in harm’s way.

Hate the battle, but don’t dismiss the soldier or his/her emotional, physical or financial needs. If we can spend $456 Billion on a questionable war and devote millions of blog pages to pro-war rhetoric, we ought to be able to do a bit better than this:

Reprinted from: Lone Star Pundit:

For six years now we have seen the bumper stickers and heard the sound bites from both sides of the aisle: “We support the troops!” (Whether or not they support their mission normally depends on which side of the aisle the individual leans toward.)

Well, now it’s time to put up or shut up. One soldier from Magnolia, Texas — just 20 minutes up the road from here — needs our support, both with prayers and if possible with a little financial relief:

A Magnolia man serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq recently had to take out a loan which is debited from his check to help pay for his father’s funeral expenses.

According to his mother, Laura Cooper, her son barely made it before her husband died, but is now having to sacrifice even more.

chris cooper veteran

Christopher Cooper Jr., 23, came home to attend his father’s funeral but only had five days to grieve with his mother and younger brother before having to head back to Iraq to take part in the Untied States’ military campaign in the Middle East. His brother, Justin Cooper, 20, is attending Texas State College.

Chris Cooper Sr., 47, died April 9, only months after finding out he had lung cancer in November. His widow, Laura Cooper, works part-time for A+ Autos in Pinehurst and was already struggling to work and take care of her disabled mother who went blind due to diabetes.

Laura Cooper has worked for the auto shop for eight years. When her husband developed cancer, her struggle to care for her ailing family and work got harder and it left her with little funds.

With one son in college and the other in Iraq, there was no one for her to turn to. She said her son is already sacrificing so much for his country, but he offered to sacrifice even more by taking out a loan against his military pay to help cover his father’s funeral expenses.

This young man is doubly a hero, sacrificing both to serve and protect his country and at the same time to care for his family back home.

The family’s church, led by pastor Gerald Sadler, has already done what it could to raise money to help the Cooper family, but this is a small church within a small community. According to the pastor,

… funeral expenses alone amount to $7,200. So far, $1,200 has come in from various donations. Sadler said that unless the community can help, the rest will be being taken out of Christopher Cooper’s son’s military pay for the next two years.

An account has also been set up at Woodforest National Bank under the name “Funeral Fund for Chris Cooper.”

If you are able and would like to help the Cooper family with the funeral expenses and lingering medical bills, you can either email Lonestar pundit or call Pastor Sadler at his place of business (A+ Autos) at 001-281-356-5100.

Help if you can.

I have asked LSP to post a PayPal address and if he does so I will pass it on to you…..

War

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From an American Soldier in China….

Peace to Australian Veterans on ANZAC Day:

ANZAC

ANZAC Day – 25 April – is probably Australia’s most important national occasion. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day.

Australia,In the news,Veterans,War,中国

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When you drink water remember the source…

JapanA few years ago my Korean Taekwondo master, with another American and his very young Korean teacher in the room, spoke to me in perfect Japanese. He proceeded to tell me that I should be wary as there was conflict between the two men. Then he winked and told me, again in Japanese, not to reveal the extent of his linguistic skills to anyone else. He had known for years prior to this day that I was fluent in Japanese, but had remained silent.

A day or two after his disclosure I asked him why he had kept it such a secret. He explained to me that to speak Japanese was to call to mind the days of his youth and the Japanese occupation of Korea. He had been forced to abandon his family identity by taking a Japanese name, forbidden to study Korean martial arts, and was witness to the arrogance and brutality of the Imperial army. I guessed his motive in revealing his secret to me came out of the then daily news on the continued Sino-Japanese-Korean animosities at that time: This was the oblique way a proud, accomplished man could release some long-held pain.

It was not long after our talk that he and another icon in Taekwondo encountered a man in an elevator in a Seoul hotel. The man asked, in his native Japanese, if they were also from Japan. The two men, ordinarily gentle and soft-spoken, emerged from the elevator while the visiting businessman remained aboard, having been rendered unconscious.

And only a week after the elevator event, Korea demolished an extraordinarily beautiful building in Seoul that had been erected during the occupation by the Imperial army. The Koreans did not just tear it down: they smashed each brick individually. The enormous collective pain of a nation had bled into every emotionally permeable membrane.

Japan has made half-hearted attempts to heal a divided Pacific rim community that still views Japan as unrepentant and inexorably tied to its militaristic past. Haruki Wada’s Asian Women’s Fund for comfort women, sexually used and abused by Japanese soldiers, is one of Tokyo’s most telling gestures.

The fund basically was meant to give the appearance of an apology without angering a large segment of Japan that viewed restitution as a loss of national face; hence, disgraceful.

fund did do some good for a fraction of the tens of thousands affected. A few hundred women from Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere received about $16,000 US Dollars from the fund (not the government) and a personal (not official) apology from the Japanese Prime Minister. Chinese women in the mainland received nothing as Beijing refused to set up an official authentication system for the victims. Other money from a relatively tiny fund went to hospital bills, retirement homes and medical facilities that benefited some women.

The latest round of reconciliation talks between Beijing and Tokyo are bound to evoke old memories for many in Korea, China, Taiwan and the Phillipines again. And forgiveness is unlikely to be forthcoming as long as the guilty party is still asking others to apologize or intervene on its behalf.

Beijing has been using water analogies throughout this process: China has called for the melting of ice and building a bridge over a sea of peace between the two countries. But, I doubt there will be much water flowing under non-existent metaphorical bridges until the leadership of Japan claims ownership for a destructive past, corrects false and state sponsored historical teachings, and begins tending to the living souls of its neighbors instead of conjuring the spirits of atrocity via visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

A Chinese Proverb: 饮水思源 (When you drink water remember the source)

China Cartoons,China Editorials,Chinese Proverbs,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Japan,Korea,War,中国

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40 Years Beyond Saigon…

The Wall Between the Names

I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but if you stand
at the base of the wall at the apex when it is quiet you can
feel a warmth ….It’s as if you’re being surrounded by all the
spirits of the wall.

—The Last Firebase

There is a wall between the names

It is the color of residue in driftwood pockets
The shadow in the soft pocket of a head wound
It is their hair and their eyes dark and full of falling
The oil on worthless roads. Factory smoke and ashes
It is charcoaled faces. Shapeshifting under night flares
The toothless smile of a man who no can longer move his legs
A million fragmented hearts pulled below its granite suface
The veils of widowed girls, telegram ink, short bursts of words
It is the color of disappearance and passing

There is a wall between the names.

— On the 40th Anniversary
of the mortar attack near Saigon
that eventually took my father’s life

For those of you who did not go to Vietnam I know that you too, as said by David Lehman, planned your lives around it just the same. And for those of you who know war, or are obliquely affected by it, I hope that you can one day dismantle the worst of weapons: memory…

American Poet in China,Asia,Personal Notes,Poetry,Vietnam,War,中国

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Snakeheads, War Crimes and Hairy Chinese

This is a recaptured post from December 13th, 2005. It fits with a discussion in progress at Cal Poly’s MBA Trip Blog

Trouble is brewing once again between China and Japan:
Chinese State Council Premier Wen, Jiabao cancelled an annual meeting with South Korea and Japan stating the reason was Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s five visits to Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine. This is the shrine that honors fallen soldiers and also houses WWII class A (the worst) war criminals. Wen told reporters, “the main reason for the impasse in China-Japan ties is that the Japanese leader won’t treat the history issue in a correct way …”

During my fifteen years in Japan I winced many times at Japan’s almost blind allegiance to the notion that the Chinese were inferior. It is not uncommon to hear Chinese referred to as lazy, dirty and uncivilized. And when hard line Japanese have had a bit to drink they are oft to talk about “Ketoh”, Hairy Chinese: Westerners. We are then only distinguished from the Chinese by arm, leg and facial hair.
Continue Reading »

China Expats,Expats,Intercultural Issues,Japan,War

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