When you have literally watched both your parents die, and tenderly tended to your honorary parents on their deathbeds, you can forgive yourself for getting drunk on a Monday-Tuesday night because the anguish keeps you from falling asleep. You write dozens of postcards to voters while listening to Szell and then Muti conduct Beethoven’s 9th, which you have longed to sing for more than 30 years but have never been in the right place at the right time.
It is okay. Your poetry career is currently taking a back seat to the day job and doing dishes and doing your part to help save the republic, but you are also dipping into your copy of Raymond Carver’s collected poems when your head is in the right place, and your minister has on file that you want Carver’s “Late Fragment” printed in the program for your memorial service. You know that your odds of reaching the other side of the flattened curve are not great, given your history of respiratory distress. You recognize that you will be attending funerals on Zoom before a vaccine becomes widely available, but you also participated in a wedding-qua-namechange-ceremony Sunday afternoon with a friend you’ve known since 1985, and wasn’t that a fine thing? Your parents grew up in poverty, under martial law, and your now-demented aunt refuses to speak Mandarin because Chiang Kai-Shek’s goons murdered all the intellectuals when they fled China. You have the gift and curse of perspective. You will write more songs if you live long enough. You are crying as you type this, and you would be even if you had sipped only water for the past twenty hours. You have far too many ghosts making demands on you, but they also drive you to care more deeply and speak more truly sooner to the people who are still here. Which is ultimately what you hope for with your poetry, so it is okay that right now it expresses itself in haphazard emails and postcards rather than haiku and iambic pentameter. We will find our way back into form if we live long enough. And if we don’t, we will still know ourselves beloved on the earth when we draw our last breath.
Here’s a farewell to glued-on seashells
and glitter-frosted plastic leaves
and all the instructions on “making things your own” —
We. Own. Nothing. Not even when we pay for them
or when we pet or polish or pray
our longings into titles and possessions,
much less when we press our names or initials
into their layers with ink or fire —
this world is not our home,
our images like water, even as
they freeze for long minutes on our screens.
Here’s to the clutter of bins and warehouses
and here’s to the wind that sweetens the sky
even as it stings our cheeks
on its way to whipping more things away.
I wear the sun on my arm to say
Nothing can be true or total all the time:
Ink blurs and bleeds, features fade,
and I have been called a thousand names
that weren’t my own, sometimes with malice
and often within a miasmatic memory’s
failure to ever-fix my mark among its grooves.
I shall not be greedy. Two hundred years hence
we all shall be writ in water and fire —
dead light lacing the streaks of diamonds
plummeting into planets no plutocrats can plunder.
What is a treasure no tyrant can touch
or tax — what shall we call currency
that cannot be spent or shared? Under my pillow,
I press my palm to a coin from Taiwan,
tracing not the actual engravings —
a dictator’s face, a palace-museum
I played within but have no precious
recollections to cherish, precise
or otherwise — I finger the metal,
trying to melt into sleep, the better
to stay alive and sane, the better
to be not constant nor correct for all time
but often enough — just often enough,
just enough, often just, often adjusting —
you see how it is? Let me not
to the marriage of minds
deny the truth of impediments:
I am no compass, but I am the moss
that glows jewel-green on even mundane days
and coats the trees on trails,
a mute map through midnights.
Violence Suffocated a Father’s Poetry, but Not His Voice
The two passages that leapt out at me:
[After reading a poem about his murdered son,] Mr. Sicilia, one of the country’s most acclaimed poets, told those who had gathered that they had just heard the last poem he would ever write.
“Poetry doesn’t exist in me anymore,” he explained later in an interview.
He said he did not belong to any of the major political parties — “I am an anarchist, in the good sense of the word” — but had participated in demonstrations before, mostly for causes dear to the left. Until a few weeks ago, he did not even have a cellphone, but one now trilled incessantly as he made plans for the next step, including a caravan to Ciudad Juárez, the border city that is Mexico’s most violent, next month.
He admitted to being anguished that he had never received this kind of notice for his works.