Beijing Summer Palace
Lotus plants are dying in a green lake: Leaves
curling into giant cups, their crinkled edges
laughter lines around the eyes of old men.
Trees like emperors kept erect by iron stairs.
Branches bind across paths, providing ease
for squirrels. Grandfathers with jet black hair
bribe future leaders with ice cream. Leaves spiral
into watery embrace. Carp flash gold, soft song
of life. Bamboo and herons glow in the paintings
of Master Zhang Daqian: His lotus are full of life,
his lakes clear, his trees and mountains strong.
Such knowledge and skill take time to acquire.
Writing with water
My son seeks treasures on my desk.
He cups a cowrie to his ear. Its back,
mottled like his mother’s tan, sings
of other summers. A souvenir of joy:
Warm coconut oil. Tang of salt on lips
kissed after sea swimming. The shell’s
curves tell stories of a season when
life was free, like love or sea breezes.
Parent versus child
Strange word from a child aged three:
She “murders” flowers. It’s her term
for confetti petals. Colours take flight,
then gentle gaily to the ground.
Please don’t hurt the flowers, I suggest.
Our battle continues none-the-less.
I ask again. This time it’s more command.
A pause. More petals flutter to the ground.
No more! Parental authority
battling a child’s creativity?
She waits, wondering if I’ll regret
the threat. More petals meet their fate.
Slap stings on buttock. Shocked, she
flees to her mother inside. It’s then
I notice her artwork: Wondrous colours
in the dirt. Monet modified.
Inside, that look as she glowers!
I regret a parental need for power.
Near Po Lin monastery I walked alone.
Mist and cloud covered the Wisdom Path.
It came quickly, like a greedy lover.
My jaw forced wide, a soft breath inside.
like a radio resuming after a power cut:
Birdsong and hum of cicadas,
the smell of damp earth,
and the skinfeel of a cool breeze.
I have heard the music of butterflies.
My daughter offers an empty bowl:
It’s really magic soup. Eyes bright
with life she feeds my soul. I sip
the soup with happy heart then
see birthday candles on the floor.
A wad of warm wax pressed
into my hand. I prefer sweets.
She smiles, gaps in her baby teeth.
From soup we move to mains:
A casserole of worms and snails.
Dessert is daisies mixed with mud.
Yellow eyes winking from the dirt.
After food, it’s time for tunes. Pots
make perfect drums when banged
with wooden spoons. Music creates
another kind of bond. Our black
labrador Harry mountains over us,
tail thumping in tune with the drums.
My daughter leaps up to dance
and I get a sense of the ineffable.
It was easy being asleep.
A chrysalis-curled soul
ignoring the world.
Now the kiss of hope
awakens the deepest
of silken slumbers.
Those echoes haunt me:
Hints of the dark continent
we came to know as love.
I suspect I fear you: The
You who has disturbed
my uneasy equilibrium.
The waitress picks her nose, awaiting my order.
Spitting and shouts drown out the traffic’s roar.
Students chant, robots remembering lessons.
Slim-hipped xiao san snake between tables.
Outside, an old man gentles a Mongoloid child
through traffic. The sky blossoms grey-brown.
A woman watches her grandson shit in the street.
Nappies are rare, toddlers with slits in their pants.
Where is the birdsong? The sparrows have all been eaten.
Where are the beautiful buildings? Adorned with smog.
Where is the wisdom of the Tao? Fighting to be heard.
When it rains I taste the bitterness of progress. Gutters
and rivers carry away all kinds of dreams. How I long
for the songs and green countryside of my youth.
xiao san is Mandarin for mistress, as in “little three” or third person
In China many deformed children are aborted or kept at home if born; it is rare to see a less-abled child in public
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