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New and Selected Poems: Mystery of Faith

I just watched the film Man on Fire again tonight. There are few films more disturbing about vengeance. And despite the success of its anti-hero, I see violence as a poor cathartic. I do not subscribe to the lynch mob calls for oblique justice like those hoping Roman Polanski will be extradited and forced to pay for his own alleged sins and those of a growing mob’s perpetrators of pain.  It seems to me that it is a bit late to revisit the morality of either Polanski, his accuser or the reportedly power abusing prosecutors and judges in his case.

My motto has become: “Writing well is the best revenge.”  Having to examine, catalogue and give order to horror in order to render it into art can effect great healing. But, I am sympathetic to those who scream our in the name of justice because where forgiveness of abuse is possible, the ability to forget is a myth.

Father Dan Maio, who was in charge of a Pueblo, Colorado youth program in the 1970’s was the epitome of evil: The proverbial wolf in priest’s clothing. Maio, the subject of the poem below, used the power entrusted to him as a priest to emotionally wound dozens of diocesan Catholic youngsters from decent homes and several mentally challenged inmates housed at the Colorado State Hospital. He used drugs, music, personal charm and manipulative psychological seminars and retreats to lure his victims. He was protected by church-bred reverence for his station and the misguided arrogance of accomplices like his assistant Father Jerry Varrone and his confessor Bishop Buswell. This was written both for catharsis and to give credence, and hopefully some measure of comfort, to the pain expressed by those he and others like him have hurt.

Mystery of Faith

There were many boys who knew the sound of black

patent leather coming down the hardwood hall

a floor above the nuns, like Mary Elizabeth,

existing on a belief in simple answers

but who would never feel

the drool, the musk

or late day stubble

on their cheeks

Maybe Sister came here once to answer the same questions:

How do you forget the making and breaking of a spirit?

How do you wash away the incense of aggression?

When does grown-up flesh release its hold

on small bones?

How do women stand it? I cannot forget even one turn of cold brass

or stillness rushing from the room, or prayers taking me

from my body, eyes fixed on the rectory’s stained ceiling.

I would be yanked back by the horrifying

rituals of the familiar: the thin vinegar

of communion wine on his breath,

the tiny cruciform medallion

raping against my chest,

vapors of toxic celibacy

everywhere

I’d try to hold my breath when he left,

and scrub the stiffening linen,

remove every corporeal trace

of the god who claimed

he was a delinquent’s

last and only chance

Sometimes I thought I knew more about being a woman

than did Sister Mary and I longed for her easy beliefs.

But, I never risked asking the questions

that can destroy such a faith

forever

When do we accept, like her, a God like the wind

who polices the night, rattles doorknobs and whispers

reassuringly to us past locked doors

that I can close my eyes again

to the dark?

American Poet in China,poems,Poetry,sexual abuse

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New and Selected Poems: The Expat’s Fiance

“Horror is partial, it keeps you going”

–Rita Dove

He’s proof that angels sweat

and make fat promises

in child-like English

She keeps twisting her oversized diamond

then minces toward the ladies room

on the highest of heels

tries to ignore the ghostly make-up

on the woman in the mirror

(dead to her father,

a disappointment to her mother)

and her weary looks of disdain

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Hostage Situations: Culture, Charity, and Cures

A few years ago a Washington DC taxi driver, Timor Sekander, a survivor of the Afghan war  with Russia, saved my emotional life by sharing the pain of his losses–a father, and two brothers–with me,  a stranger, looking for answers en-route to the Vietnam Memorial. He turned off his meter and spent two mercurial days introducing me to dozens of grateful refugees who mediated their memories and healed their common wounds by helping each other survive everyday challenges through trade, fellowship and commerce in a country not yet sure how to appreciate their talents or accept their presence.

On Twitter yesterday I engaged in a conversation with a man in Mississippi who had publicly decried Obama’s recent executive order that will close Guantanamo Bay (Camp Delta) within a year while granting legal rights to those incarcerated like the Chinese Uyghur Muslims held there for years without formal charges or trial.  In 17 current cases, detainees were found innocent of any wrong doing and worse yet, some Uyghur prisoners arrived at Gitmo months after being kidnapped near Afghanistan by U.S. supported vigilantes who were paid bounties to round up suspected terrorists. I replied by applauding the executive order and let him know that I had read on, past the section granting constitutional rights, to the section with a clearly worded directive ordering trials and punishment for those the evidence suggests are truly terrorists.

This is not, and was not, a political argument for me.

gitmo-prisoners

My new “follower” on Twitter used the heavily charged word “terrorist” during out talk to describe the detainees still held at Guantanamo and said they did not deserve constitutional protection. He went on to say that the terrorists were being well cared for and nothing at Gitmo could be “construed as torture.” I contend (ed) that being separated from your family and locked in even in the cleanest of cages for four to eight years with recreational water-boarding occasionally on your schedule could hardly be construed as a tax payer funded vacation in Cuba….Terrorist is a word we have been conditioned to associate almost exclusively with the Arab world, so it is easy to imagine that where there is religious smoke  there is terrorist fire; conversely to entertain “torture” as a part of the American lexicon is to appear anti-patriotic,or treasonous at best….

Last week I was talking to Diaster Relief Shelters founder Roland Catellier about the trials inherent in fund-raising for homes and dormitories in Sichuan where millions are still without adequate protection. Those Chinese now living in temporary shelters may well be sharing cooking and toilet facilities with dozens of other families. It is a disaster-induced prison with many innocents serving indeterminate sentences for the crime of poverty.

Collecting funds to help survivors of disaster or trauma is the greatest challenge of any charity in China.  Many people view the Middle Kingdom and all its inhabitants as economic terrorists who are part of an industrial entity that has robbed them of jobs or shut the doors on their neighbor’s family business. And the huge and faceless numbers of those dead in China keep us and any Chinese who could help from looking too closely at the anguish partly made of indifference, or helplessness or fear of falling into some mournful abyss. It is hard for many to care amidst soaring unemployment that has now washed ashore in China and the beleaguered in Sichuan are hard to segregate from the 900 million others in poverty trying to live on less than $1.50 a day.

Sichuan Destruction

I feel ill today and spent the day, when not sleeping, in video and written excursions away from fever and body ache. There is no fun in dwelling in physical or societal misery and I spend more time in concocting solutions than I do recounting trials. So, today I read and  listened to teachers and practictioners of comfort and compassion. My favorite diversion today was a visit with the “happiest man in the world,” Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, author and photographer via his lecture on TED.Even the man whose extraordinary bliss has been scientifically documeted spoke about the fleet-footed nature of feelings. He acutely feels anguish and sorrow, but can skew his thoughts and actions toward solutions and reconciliation. His spiritual leader recently said that while he often diagreed with George Bush, but he loved him–and I believe him.

I know, as one who lives daily with the extreme and varying degrees of pain associated with an autoimmune disease, that it is through compassion or sharing that I can dissolve associated anger, irritations or suffering. Teaching and writing are my active meditations, my ways of showing compassion: In classes where I really give of myself I often vanquish colds, unlock painfully secured limbs or transform a mood from depression and despair into extreme contentment. And the receipt of good teaching and compassionate words that issue from sage friends like Des Walsh, Zach my monastic guide and Debra Xiangjun Hayes can have the same impact.

Ricard talked to the unseen dual nature of things like the depth of an ocean below a roiling, temperamental wave: There is more than meets the eye in all things. It brought me to thinking about how charity and compassion and even health are often hostages of  our narrow fields of vision–those accepted by us, even if foisted upon us, without compassionate investigation on our part.

The first thing a police negotiator does in a hostage crisis is to begin calling the victim in peril by their true name so that the perpetrator can hear and see that he is a life threat to a vital, breathing person, a sentient being and not just an object for ransom, or a means to an end. There is always hope that you can resonate with the good, the ocean below, in even the most violent of waters.

charity

Michael Berg at the Kaballah Center says in a recent article that we must make conscious decisions that bring us to a place where we are willing to experience the pain of taking on the burdens of others. I think before we can devote ourselves to the Sisyphus-like toil of charity in a place like Sichuan, as has Roland, we must acknowledge some emotional or human connection. we need to see the faces of those in distress, we need to hear their stories and politics will be forced to embrace new priorities. I will settle for even a few more of us taking time to divest ourselves of preconceptions so that we feel an imperative to engage, not war with, people making decisons, not to interfere with our well-being but to survive themselves just one more day. It s then we can follow Berg and feel, to paraphrase Camus, that to help someone you have been taught to revile or to offer money time or comfort to aid someone who may only have minutes to live is a struggle, but one toward the heights of selflessness and it is, by itself, enough to fill any man’s heart.

More in Part II

Addendum: Four good places to begin to appreciate China’s people: Blog of Dreams, Tom Carter, The Library Project, Derrick Chang’s Mask of China

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Whose enemies are they? Pt.1…

Last week during a visit Zach, the Monk in the Sycamore Tree, looked more like a Catholic priest in a open air confessional as we spoke through the screened window separating my porch from the living room. He explains his occasional habit a “3-minute meditation” meant to take him out of his everyday orbit and force his mind and body to accept an alternate reality and the revelations that emanate from such a departure.I am quick to call it a “bullshit excuse” to revisit what he’s missing and has been lost in his life,  bad or good, and quick-cure his loneliness–part of a need to stay tethered to the forces that shaped him.

Vengeance

In between smokes (Zach, not me), we watched “Cold Case” on Hong Kong TV together earlier and, as usual, fell into an unstructured dialectic dialogue ( an argument) brought on by a show many criticize as vapid and simplistic. Anyone who can justify smoking a cigarette as a pathway way to understanding Dharma (the confluence of the active and passive nature of Universal Law) can certainly conjure a personal philosophical treatise on a prime-time TV show.

I cry every time I watch Cold Case. I am a sap and especially affected by music. They use popular  music in  cold Case that is so widely known that is part of our collective consciousness; it is well chosen and stand-alone it frees emotions previously confined to solitary spaces in memory (OK, that is my bullshit excuse for the day). I regard Cold Case as I do Ghost Whisperer: It as an allegory meant to instruct us that to seek the healing of long-suffered wounds is a natural necessary element in personal happiness.

Zach says history is tired of being relived and we should command the sweetness of release from sadness and pain through prayerful self-examination in the here and now. He believes that to replace bad memories with the flood of endorphins and enlightenment that come from meditation actually cauterizes anguish. He said, as has another of my friends, that other people’s enemies are not his adversaries and that Cold Case encourage people to hang on to the past and fantasies of revenge. And where I applauded the investigators that brought closure and consequences to the guilty this week Zach saw it as a fight (albeit fictional) that he’s glad he can avoid in similar real life encounters. He has no need to bear a grudge against malevolent characters–invented or real.

Last week I helped create a sting that jailed a Chinese gang member who had scammed my friend ( a charity director in China ) a week earlier and then was dumb enough to try it again.  I was as angered and incensed as was my buddy: He is my friend, and via my worldview, I owe him allegiance to him should I perceive he has truly been wronged. His enemies are my enemies. Zach was quick to point out that a budding celebrity in social media had,in the past, covertly asked me (on no less than 7 occasions) to help her retaliate against people she claimed had wronged her in some way. It turned out that this minor star had duped all of us in her tiny constellation and I had wrongfully shut out some good people. I admit to being wrong and brought to where I was by a gifted siren, a sociopath who feigned being wronged for whatever narcissistic pleasure. It does not mean that my core desire to be an advocate or protector of my friends is inherently wrong.

Zach drew a parallel to how we deal with China and its enormous need for charity. The western press, he said, revels in stories about wrong-doing and has no use for humanitarian tales of need or triumphs of the spirit from people in a country we have been duped into loathing. ‘Your two years of efforts to raise funds for victims of poverty and disease in China have yielded you less money than was spent today to pass out free drinks at Google Headquarters’. It seems your friends are not many people’s friends either.” And with that we both laughed though mine was tearfully distracted by knowing five people I know personally have died and one is waiting for the end of her life because I have not been able to rally kindness as well as others have rallied hate.  And while Zach himself has volunteered countless hours of comfort to cancer and earthquake victims he is right: My “friends”–rather my friend’s problems–do not belong to anyone else even if I think they should.

Cold Case is focused on wrong-doers finally paying for their past transgressions. But, we never see how they are punished for deeds. And often we are lead to believe that even the perpetrators received some measure of peace because they could not chant away feelings of guilt with a mantra of lies or just causally walk away from secrets that their conscience wouldn’t let them lock up down some dark corridor of memory. Zach thinks Karma (Karma Niyama) –in plain speak the everyday consequeces of someone’s actions–more oten than not rules in cold cases. Me, I think that the scumbags seem to win far more than the good guys because we are basically an apathetic people too concerned about meaningless aspect of our own lives–our “personal branding” as my sociopathic friend calls it. If we take the position that truly moral fights belong to someone else we leave human beings exposed to packs of emotional and materially hungry jackals. On a larger scale we allow for holocausts, the murder of Jewish and Palestinian children in Gaza, the clogging of rivers with bodies in Rwanda, and we become accomplices in genocide. On a smaller scale we are disloyal and selfish and might as well be holding the metaphorical knife that wounds our friends or their families if we don’t take a stance once we are recognize the truth. A Sichuan earthquake survivor told me, with a gravity that pulled all warmth from my body, that his idea of charity was now a sincere wish to die– to save those that worried about him from more trouble and frustration. He is like the women I have met in the cancer burdened Pearl River Delta who have hidden medical reports from their families in order not to bring them the financial pain of treatment bills.

Zach went on quietly to tell me about a meeting between the Dalia Lama and a group of western psychologists a few years ago: The western intelligencia advocated the expressing rage and saw anger as healthy while the Dalai Lama pointed to objective studies of bliss that showed his followers to be happier and more fit than those who divested themselves of rage through retaliation or outburst. I agreed, but pointed out that the cost of selfish devotion to one’s own bliss was condemnation of the opportunity for healing by others.

Zach,who left today after giving me a warm and sympathetic hug, has a religious and spiritual imperative to follow that I respectfully disagree is a good one. In the new rage that is social media we twitter-borgs tend to judge people by the company (Company? Say rather a brigade, batallion or division…) that follow us on a site. And we are loathe to challenge those with influence for two reasons: we want their blessing (and maybe some of their followers) and we are afraid to become victims of their displeasure for fear of losing some of our own social capital. We have turned from offline friends and global neighborhoods to “followers,” numbered minions doing forced labor in our personal branding camps. It has become easy to lose one “friend” when there are 2,000 more still in the fold. When I “tweeted” to 2,000 followers that a newlywed American in China had his money and documents in the Beijing aiport only one person, a Chinese travel agent with meager personal reserves, offered assistance.

To be continued…

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Involver Social Application and Olympic Documentary Join Forces

Discovery Channel Director and Producer Siok Siok Tan has made her Boomtown Beijing Documentary available to us…

It is great News!

Click on the video buttons above or head to the first of two “Involver” applications we will use:

http://apps.new.facebook.com/boomtown_beijing/campaign_memberships/home?_fb_fromhash=0976618598b5aab8a5de78491bb00104

Help us beta test the application and do some good in the process. The Library Project, The Ms Yue Cancer Fund, The Reading Tub and Sichuan Volunteer Teachers will all benefit.

Sign onto the application and invite your group members and friends. Please investigate all aspects of the application and send me feedback as soon as you can. The top 10 recruiters will get 10 free hours of social media campaign consultation for free.

Please watch the trailer and do what you can to help make this a phenomenal success!

Thanks everyone!

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