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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

American Poet in China,American Professor in China,China Expat,China Expats,Heartsongs,Intercultural Issues

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Found and Still Lost

I first met Shannon during a poetry reading shortly after my first book came out some two decades ago. I later reviewed her first collection of verse and stayed in touch through the years with the sexy, sassy, southern and broadly gifted artist. I last saw Shannon on a business trip down south in the 90’s. She was showing signs of some encroaching malady and I heard people whispering “anorexia,” “bulimia,” “drugs” and worse about the quirky, but elegantly well-centered soul who loved Carrie Bradshaw-ish designer shoes–when her face was not spackled with paint.

She was having slight difficulty with her walking, talking and balance and I missed many of the clues as we were then in the midst of pulling off a daring PR stunt to try and rescue her from impending financial hardship. She faced a huge bill for unsold pottery and jewelry shortly after her boyfriend, who ran a large and lucrative rep’ group that also sold her art, “wandered a bit” and quit selling her work shortly after she left him a permanent stray “on account of his infidelity.”

She lamented to me one day that she wished she could rid herself of a conscience so she could hand the bank note, half owned by her ex-boyfriend, back to the vindictive philanderer. I suggested we sell her conscience on EBay with a certificate of authenticity neatly folded inside a jeweled bag she would design. EBay tolerated the ruse long enough for Shannon to receive calls from morning drive shows and newspapers worldwide–the BBC in Dublin found it particularly amusing. I do not remember how successful we were, but I remember how much fun we had during her 15 minutes of fame. And, for the record, I doubt she would have really abandoned her conscience to a stranger for something as cheap as revenge.

Shannon eventually righted herself  all but physically. The last note I received from her said she had been confined to a wheelchair and was learning to perform simple, everyday tasks again. But, phone numbers no longer worked and emails bounced back to me. I had lost her and on top of the guilt we wandering expats feel when those we love are far away and in trouble, I feared for the worst–despite knowing that she would be no easy match for the brain tumor the doctors could not operate to remove.

This week I found an obscure reference to her on the 9thstlab Blog. It was poetry about her condition that was written by her while in a hospital in Alabama. The poems are from 2007, but I strongly sense she is alive and fighting well somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

she has always been open, public and unabashed about her situations in life, good and worrisome. so, I wanted to share the work I found, but am hoping that if she reads this that I do not end up the reason for a new sale item on an auction site for IP theft of her poetry ;-).

It is powerful stuff Ms Smith and deserves to be read, as much as you deserve health and happiness.

From the blog:

Shannon Smith is a visual artist living in Birmingham Alabama. Recently she was diagnosed with AVM – Arterio veinous malformations, a rare form of brain tumor. In Shannon’s case the tumor is inoperable. The treatment for the embolism is even more painful than the tumor itself. The combination of illness and treatment has rendered her unable to work in her usual mediums, but she has been strong enough to write poetry about her experience. She is under the care of physicians at the medical center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham – a research hospital and one of the best in the country.

TWELVE BLANKETS FOR MY BRAIN

After the surgeons have
rearranged my head,
they become concerned
about my body temperature
at eighty six degrees. It is strange,
because I do not feel cold, only empty.
Nurses bring one blanket after another
wrapping me up tightly. I feel warm
but trapped and weighted down like
swimming with my clothes and shoes on.

Two more blankets
added to the pile-
Now I am just tangled like
A fish in a fishing net not knowing which way is up
or out. My voice trapped under layers of thick cotton.
And when I reach the numeric definition of normal, I do
not feel different or normal, mostly just trapped.
Tucked in, but no bedtime story.
I picture myself escaping from the hospital;
sliding in my socks on the shiny floors,
running down the halls,
riding elevators ,
waving to other patients.
My blankets alone in a pile on the floor.

LOOKING FOR WHAT IS LEFT

The darkness is back,
hovering over this crumpled body
where waves of pain call home.
The blackness has become opaque now
Not even outlines of the everyday.

Morphine, Fetanyl, Sekanol- hello lovers.
I hide as I swallow nails.
The shutters bang against windows.
It is too late for prayer.
Lightning cracks the night sky
shattering my skull
on the zipper of scars,
one stitch at a time.

Sleep will never find me here.
The warden of pain shakes his keys
at my cage. These are not the tears of heartbreak-
much too salty, much too free.

This darkness is heavy and suffocating
like a fishing net with weights.
If I am here tomorrow,
I will go look for myself
kicking bones out of the way,
to see what is left

Shannon Smith

Much love from China, SSlola

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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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Twenty-Five Things….

Since I have been tagged numerous times on Facebook with this Meme I thought I would do a serious version in answer-though don’t expect a totally straight face. The beauty of a meme like this is its ability to tilt you away from the events of the day and give you a reason to take a meta-view, as unobstructed as memory will allow, of paths in shadows and ahead, in the gathering light.

olgacornucopia400w

25 Things about me….

  1. I see myself as a combination of two Jungian Archetypes: The Lover and the Magician. The lover in me is the guiding force in my poetry: dialectical and unquenchable desire, immediate sorrow and regret, and a notebook full of “portable kisses.” The Magician in me looks for ways to explain, guide and tempt people into learning and to give voice through art to the good in Kings, Magicians, Warriors and Lovers so people might cherish both calloused hands and  unprotected hearts; to seek the laws that make me, the lover, so sensitive that there are days I feel like lying down because I am dizzied by an earth I can feel rotating on its axis.
  2. I have been physically tortured with the consent of friends–ones  I belayed to safety, but who left me un-anchored and unprotected.  But, despite that my world view still pardons the days for ending too soon and pities the men who never turned to see their shadows disappear; hence, I am quicker to forgive a murdering stranger than a disloyal friend.
  3. I should have left her sooner.
  4. I should have married her when I had the chance.
  5. I love the outdoors. I never want to draw a bowstring or pull a trigger ever again but I want to always see bright stars, even in the dark pools of evening waters. I secretly want an hermitage on a mountain, but with plenty of guest rooms for the people I love.
  6. I almost died of a ruptured gall bladder so I long ago said my goodbyes. I have had a perfect daydream (and occasional nightmare) of a life: archer, writer, actor, father, soldier, businessman, teacher, healer….My life is a billfold of foreign currency spent wisely as well as in proportion to my foolishness…
  7. I never opened a book during school. I couldn’t afford one.
  8. I talk too much, I praise too little, and I am as forgetful as the tide: sometimes leaving without thanks…
  9. I could live on fried chicken, boiled shrimp and garlic-buttered broccoli in perpetuity.
  10. I wish the kisses given by adoring students to  philandering colleagues, priests and teachers in my life would re-appear and show themselves like cancer.
  11. I miss my mother.
  12. I have lost or broken every watch I have ever owned: It is a metaphor for my disdain for time.
  13. I am spiritual, but have grown weary of the religious calisthenics of the west and am too attached to beauty to imagine a bowl to be broken in advance of its demise to be a devotee of eastern thought….
  14. I have a secret crush on Yang, Li Ping that is now not a secret anymore.
  15. I believe that vengeance is in reality an act of regret.
  16. I forget #15 to be a truth too often and fail to forgive myself in time enough to spare an ambush.
  17. I teach in the same voice that speaks from my poetry. It is fearlessly loud enough to carry past 10,000 ears, but I am shy and at parties I end up making make sounds resembling uncomfortable wings below tattered eaves.
  18. I think I have was passed some secret gay fashion gene meant for critique, but not personal styling.
  19. I cry every time I attend the theater because it is where I wish I could have spent more of my adult life.
  20. I believe that too many policeman and statesman are costumed, gutless criminals.
  21. I once believed that if I could write just one poem, like a Mark Doty or a Robert Bly, that could empty you of sorrow or turn into itself into a shutter that could bang life through an abandoned memory that I could die happy. Now that I am older I have amended that to two, or three or….
  22. I think most artists, like myself, are afraid of going mad; great artists revel in their lunacy.
  23. I believe we should restore the draft, but only to put teens to work in charities not war zones. Station them with NGOs or in citizen media training, as bloggers/micro-bloggers while living in homeless shelters or prisons.
  24. I blame religion and government for imprisoning, with laws and rituals, the spiritual gifts that built the great cathedrals and carved gentle, giant Buddhas out of rock.
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