The Line He Draws

For Tomas Transtroemer 

The line he draws on his notebook 

stretches out, endlessly, 

with the sound of an axe cutting the air, 

and continues its silent judgement, where 

the world is halved.

I’m on one side;

My deeds the other, falling soundlessly;

A rebuke— 

 

I cast my thought over 

into the realm of inanity.

It bounces like a morning dew 

on lifeless leaves.

Air is thinner there 

than a breath.

 

I grab hold of the line —the edge of existence, 

saved by an old hypothesis 

of death.

 

published at Thirty West Publishing House 

Tonight

It must have been too much alcohol,

even your look becomes suddenly 

                                            so tender

and full of the promise 

                             of a summer’s night.

I’m longing to have you, 

                                   here and now

before the harsh daylight steals you away

and I might never see you again.

                                  Anyway that’s the game,

a sweet but ruthless encounter 

 

                                   with no tomorrow

for queers like us in this all-embracing land.

But I like you tonight – 

that’s why this empty bar

does call for something more intimate 

                                     between us.

your face— 

your half-open shirt—

Your creamy chest— 

O the rushing sound 

                           deep inside my veins!

It’s been too good a night to let you flee,

                           just stay a while longer—

If you desire admiration,

                           or compliments 

from all men before and after me,

I have nothing better now

                          than my loneliness 

in a promiscuous life,

and tonight,

                            I’ve given it to you.

 

Published on The New English Review

A Death In The Sun

Man speaks your name like a burning anathema,

and picks up your body where 

butterflies of newspapers circle above you.

 

The yellow sun is in your hair,  the darkened color 

of tamed waters.

The warm yellow sun—

The quiet yellow sun—

 

Your death rides a black van;

Your death, more real than life, comes at five o’clock, 

in a wedding tuxedo.

The Bridge

Hovering like an open wound in the air,

the suspension bridge hangs reticent

above a loud river that cuts through the plateau.

A never-healing wound.

Beside it, like a pebble out of an ocean of greenery,

our village stands alone.

 

It was hardly a place at all in the 1970s

but some rickety huts 

built as a camp for men who came

for lumber, a nationwide need pressing

hard on their shoulders; 

My father was one of them, 

felling trees for the nation. One day,

a rhododendron tree obsessed him.

He built his house beneath it, 

discarding his axe. Nonetheless 

he loved going out in the wilderness, 

whistling a tune

learnt from the mountain wind.

The plateau favored him most; At every full moon,

lost souls from the mountains visited him.

Years later,

he was taken to the end of the morning fog

and never came back.

My mother worked in a power plant, where

she was awed by the electric mystique 

and worshipped the lightning.

An Yi woman taught her to cure with herbs and words.

She saw the symptoms of loneliness

and tried to cure it with fleece flowers.

In the woods tuberculosis caught her

and the breath of demons ran through her lungs.

 

In 1988, my parents met on the bridge and soon

married there on,

accompanied by lumbermen whose 

swarthy faces surfaced in my dreams

like bodhisattvas.

Then they moved to the flowers 

and gave birth to me.

That day, 

people came to my parents’ hut.

They had returned early from the sloped zone

of the woods above the clouds

and built a bonfire in the yard.

 

In the early 1990s a strange world suddenly rushed in, 

mercilessly, to the noise of mining machines.

Some withdrew deeper into the protective shade

of woods,

Some, like my parents, adopted a new tongue

and parted with their ghosts for good.

A concrete road was built by strangers 

who tamed the river in their wake.

Still I’d sneak out in the morning

and ride the bridge like a water serpent 

as it swayed in the wind and hissed.

Sometimes I leaned on the beam,

praying flags pirouetting above me, 

while the river talked, sotto voce, 

about men of the forrest, 

A cluster of forgotten faces, elemental now,

all of them…

The bridge was growing old, slowly, 

twenty years of silence.

 

In 1998 my parents travelled one week 

to a city which would not speak to them, 

or anyone smelling of damp moss.

They put me in a modern school, told me

to forget the ghosts and, secretly,

they returned to the mountain mist.

Several months later Hong Kong returned,

the nation was drowned in joyful tears.

While my mother, making a talisman

for her only son,

cried for a month.

They met only ten years after.

I grew up with the soil of lonely mountains 

and a touch of madness 

inside my veins; at night,

the quiet bridge cradled me to sleep, dreaming

a scratched moon from the plateau 

crashing on me.

 

Time halted there, locked in a memory 

of the past.

The new world rushed into a busy millennium. 

In the old, my parents were pale, frightened, 

unable to operate a phone.

The cracks between the two stretched out,

like the wound that was the bridge.

At one end were my parents 

and all the mountain ghosts;

at the other, me, facing the great unknown.

 

I have traveled the vast lands of China,  

looking for a place too late to understand 

yet too precious to abandon.

The wild plateau, polished now 

by a storm of footfalls, 

will receive me to rest,

while I walk with a heart winging high,

on that bridge again,  

where one generation of men walked before me,

towards home…