Beijing Summer Palace in autumn
Lotus plants dying in a vast green lake: Leaves
curling into giant cups, their crinkled edges
laughter lines around the eyes of sad old men.

Trees older than emperors kept erect by iron stairs.
Branches entwine across paths, providing ease
for squirrels. Grandfathers with gleaming black hair

bribe future leaders with ice cream. Leaves spiral
into watery embrace. Flashes of gold make me long
for life. Bamboo and herons glow in the murals

of Master Zhang Daqian: His lotus are always alive,
his lakes always clear, his mountains always strong.
Such knowledge and skill take time to acquire.

Writing with water

An angel asked me: What is the greatest gift
one can give another? Love, I offered in reply.
Love is already given, the angel said, like
knowing the sun will rise. The greatest gift

is freedom: With it comes hope and choice.
Hope sustains us more than food. We choose
how to live and love. With freedom we’re
able to say goodbye when the time is right.

I cried when I heard those words. Fear not,
whispered the angel, life offers many kinds
of freedom. Go forth in love, and be free,
for that is what your soul yearns to be.

Three centuries ago I lied to ease our pain.
Denying love meant misery for both of us.
Now we say goodbye again, seeking ways
to ease the pain I know will set us free.

Let’s find champagne to toast a pure soul
as you open the door of an awakening heart.
I know, for now, we must proceed apart
‘til we meet again, in another life and time.

My son seeks treasures on my desk.
He cups a cowrie to his ear. Its
freckled back sings of summer,
mottled like his mother’s suntan. A
souvenir of yesterday’s joys:

Warm coconut oil. Tang of salt on lips
kissed after sea swimming. The shell’s
curves tell stories of a season
when everything was possible: 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.

Music of butterflies
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.

Absolute silence.

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.

Only the music of butterflies remains.

Magic meal
Tobi, aged three, offers an empty bowl
and grins: It’s really magic soup.
Eyes bright with joy she feeds her dad.
I slurp the soup and feeling glad

see birthday candles on the floor. A
wad of warm wax pressed in my hand.
I prefer sweets. She smiles, gaps
like tombstones in her baby teeth.

From soup we move to main course:
A casserole of snails and worms.
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. Joyful music
creates another kind of love. Our

black Labrador mountains over us
his tail matching the drum rhythm,
a slobbering love that crashes into walls.
And I receive a sense of the unknowable.

Uneasy equilibrium
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.

Café song
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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