wang ping

 

Today Soek-Fang Accepted My Friend Request from Another World

It’s mid-April and the river
Is under a new blizzard

Kate comes over and we walk into the snow
That carries the weight of the entire Mississippi

Trees bend into lizards, crocodiles, wolves
An eagle leads us to robins, snow owls, yellow finches

We chat about kids, schools, divorce, race
We follow the footprints of turkeys, dogs, coyotes

At the confluence, Fort Snelling is still besieged
Cries of Dakota warriors peel from the Pike Island camp

Far away in Houston, Fady, a rising star
Vows patience, his fever for love and beauty

So breathless, the earth trembles under our boots
The river whirls like dervish, white skirt swelling

We halt at the silence that seizes our breath
And I know you’re with us, Soek-Fang, keeping us alive

 

Of Mice and Men

“It was a turning point for me,” said the biologist to the class,
“when my professor grabbed the lab mouse and flung it against the wall.”

And you had tears in your eyes
As you depicted the hand, pale, hairy
Unapologetic, the hand of a master
And the lab mouse, blind, cancer-ridden
Yet happy to be a mouse and alive

Then the rage, the fling against the wall
The spine, the brain, the heart
Splashing like asteroids

It awakened something in me, you say
I am no long the same

As you watch the human “mouse”
In the teeth of the revenge machine
Invisible, raged, raging
The same spine, muscle, limbs
The same brain, bones, spirits
Flung across your path

As you stand in the ruins
As you walk through this razor sharp silence
As you wade into the sea of bloody sacrifice

Are you willing to say: it awakens something?

And say: this hand, this yellow, brown, black hand
Makes the same delicious meals
Makes the same beautiful sonnets, art, songs
Splits cells with the same precision?

Are you willing to acknowledge
Our milk is just as white and nourishing
Our blood just as red with boiling spirit
And our need to be men or mice is just as legit?

How do you keep the same
As you watch this human mouse
Flung against your wall of conscience
Over and over and over

 

Who Killed Soek-Fang Sim

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
Already assuming you’re just another
Dumb teacher, dumb scholar, dumb woman
Just because we share a yellow face,
A funny accent, and an eternal doubt
Between our eyebrows: are we good enough
Will ever be good enough
In this fruited prairie?

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
As I sat watching rumors shroud you
Poison gas seeping into your breasts
Heart, lungs, liver, spleen, tongue, throat
Till every drop of blood, every cell of our being
Is filled with this cancerous doubt:
Are we good enough? Will ever be good enough?
In this gas chamber of slander
We die from inside, a lone alien
Under the purple mountain majesties

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
Filling vita with our bone marrow
Books, honors, awards, student evaluations
Testifying how we’ve changed their lives with ours
Oh how we toil with our bleeding dream
No holiday, no weekend, no vacation
No time for friends or children
Only our vita bigger than this nation
Only this yearn to be seen
Through the glass of justice
As “good enough equals”
Under the beautiful halcyon skies

I’m one of them, Soek-Fang
Killing you with my silence, my quick
Belief in this whitewashing slander
Even though the truth is just a button away:
You’re a great scholar, a passionate
Teacher, a generous colleague…
You should have been the face of the institution
With your roots in China, your birth in Singapore
Your PhD from London, the only international
Degree as a crown jewel for the global mission
Yet I assumed your incompetence
Because of this internalized doubt–
Are we good enough?
Must we toil on our knees for a foothold
Under this alabaster tower dimmed by our tears?

I’m breaking through this gas chamber, Soek-Fang
I refuse to believe this whitewashed lie–
“Not good enough, will never be good enough”
Just because of our yellow face, our black accent
Our brown immigrant feet…refuse to please
On our knees…in our deathbeds
In the name of diversity, human rights
I refuse to swallow the doubt
That kills you and me
That kills our sisters and brothers
Across the amber waves of grain

I’m rising, Soek-Fang
We’re rising, Soek-Fang
If the law won’t speak justice
We’ll sing it with our poetry
If justice becomes a cover for lies
We’ll burn it with our eyes
If lies smear our spirit
We’ll cleanse it with our blood
If our spirit can’t cross the chasm of hope
We’ll make wings of 7 billion hearts
To fly from sea to shining sea

Take our hands, Soek-Fang
Fear is no longer an option
Silence is no longer an option
Rise with us, Soek-Fang
Out of this alabaster tower
From sea to shining sea
Under the beautiful halcyon skies
Over the purple mountain majesties
Across the amber waves of grain
Through this fruited prairie
Till we reach the land of the free

Soek-Fang Sim, a Singapore Chinese immigrant, taught International Studies at a Midwest liberal art college. The rumor had it that she was a poor teacher and scholar. She didn’t pass her third-year review and shortly died of breast cancer at 35, in her home near Berkeley. http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=275269

 

The River in Our Blood
A Sonnet Crown

I

The geese are painting the sky with a V, my lord
The Mississippi laughs with its white teeth
How fast winter flees from the lowland, my lord
And how’s the highland where songs forever seethe?

At the confluence, I sing of the prairie, my lord
My joy and sorrow soar with rolling spring
Its thunder half bird, half mermaid, my lord
No poppies on hills, only ghost warriors’ calling

Today is chunfeng—share of spring, my lord
Two spirits, one on phoenix wings, one on lion’s seat
Across the sea, kindred spirits, my lord
Prayer through breaths, laughing children on the street

Let’s open our gift, acorn of small things
Let river move us without wants or needs

II

Cycad
for Robert Bjorgum

Let river move us without wants or needs
Let cycads carry their fruit in naked seeds

No flower to adorn your heart, roots pulling
Food from sand, stones. What magic in your seed

White flesh burns the nerves of the ignorant
What desire or love wedged in your coned seed?

Along colored veins—Age of Cycads—rings
Of truths. In your dried palm, an open seed

Naked to sun and moon, herbivores’ teeth carry
You across the chasm. In the crown, a seed

Running from pole to pole—the Sea was one
Body, unhinged, spewing lava into your seed

You’re not shadows from Permian of China
Look at this beauty–so simple in your agate seed

III

Look at this beauty-so simple in your agate seed
A blue jay calls from the river’s blue mouth
What runs from a roof, flows to the East Sea?
What winds towards north, then spills into South?

Last night on the highland, snow and rain

Winter’s muddy feet drag behind spring’s fawn

In the valley, sounds of a whooping crane

A wheel barrow, copper etched by the dawn

The river has broken the rein of ice
Taking boulders, trees, teeth of dams…swirling
To the waists of cottonwoods, oaks, grilles, spice
Who can stop her riding on eagles’ wings?

Truth can’t be drowned in books or winner’s lie
Moon on river’s bend, long day of mayfly

IV

Moon on river’s bend, long day of mayfly
No sound or word from Damascus’ desert
Limestone ridge along Silk Route—face of Dubai
Crumbles—wind in hyssop, thyme, wild mustard

This flayed land, so raw, parched, only seeds fly
To take roots in the conquerors’ footprints
Dusk weeps like sand through hands, pulling first cry
From Azan’s throat, a black slave as god’s imprints

Home under the ash cloud, darting swallows
From hospitals, roses on broken walls
Tanks at the border. Shadows at ghettos
Remorse in maze—the last muezzin calls

The Dervish whirls, palm to earth, palm to sky
Who gave us the hand to feel your sublime?

V

Who gave us the hand to feel your sublime?

Which hunter caught the fire in the bird’s eye?
My lord, your falcon leads the path of ice and fire
The gate is open for those chosen to climb

The volcano came alive this morning
Glaciers slide into the womb of the earth
How do you stop a heart from trembling
As ice cuts into the fire of new birth

Along the wind path, Knight of thousand hearts
In the East Sea, Maiden of thousand hands
Mist wraps the islands and your boat of glass

The horse calls his master from distant lands

The warrior draws his sword from Arthur’s Seat 
How do you keep the same, back from the deep?

VI

In Memory of Jan…

How do you keep the same, back from the deep?

Dripping preserve, the brain sits in gloved hands
All cells are programmed to die—your leap
Of faith, dimpled behind silvery strands
So beautiful, your great love…What’s matter?
Breath, ladybug on a sunbathed window
Maverick at crossroad, fish jumping river…
Is mind matter? The heart, seat of joy and sorrow
Holds stubborn cells. Outside the funeral
Light ripples across sky and prairie grass
Something has taken us by the visceral
A crowd of spirits behind the darkly glass

Immortality kills us in the first place
Our heart keeps beating at its own pace

VII

In collaboration with Ryan

To die and live again–this constant change
Our heart just keeps beating at its own pace
Fear, anger, sorrow—storms beyond our range
The river bows and bends, birthing new space

Veins of water across the delta wrist, opening
Cupped hands…fish, reeds, frogs mating in puddles
Home… where cranes stop for a drink, then rising
Back to their birthplace. The spirit shuttles

Between heaven and earth—how you follow
This primordial path? The brain, a wrinkled mass
Keeps us at bay, eyes on the black swallow
From distant sea…messenger through tall grass

Memory split from the Fountain of Youth
You hold us to the place– this beat, this truth

VIII

You hold it to this place– this beat, this truth
Wild turkey for guests, yam in sweet rice stuffing
Peacock dance, flamenco hands, sorghum spirits soothe
Strayed ghosts. In China, there’s no Thanksgiving
Good words flow from glass to glass. Ten thousand geese
In the sky, ten thousand whales from north to south
Sounds of flute, a pining soul no one can appease
A lover turned into a stone at the river’s mouth
A crazed mother, crying for her burst bubble
Breaths of taichi, circling with phoenix flows
What arrows can silence your fire? A true singer
Soars over the cawing of ten thousand crows

We feed ghosts to kill an inherited shame
Nobody claims rivers at the endgame

IX

No one claims rivers at the end of game
Swans trumpet from Head of the Mississippi
Along the trails—snow, dogs, woodpeckers–same
Difference as children slide with whoopee
Laugh, and rivers rumble like summer nights
On sandstone bluffs, lovers watch crew boats dart
Like insects. Walking on water is not a sleight
Of hands but an instinct, echoes of distant stars
And sturgeons charging without food or sleep
Keep going, says the master, one stroke at a time
Breathe between waves…his voice steep
from tumors, yet he stands, furious and sublime

What arrow points us to grace, here and now?
A swan’s touch, neck bending into a bow

X

A swan’s touch, neck bending into a bow
A storm without premonition: pines, oaks, alders
Ancient dreams–snapped at the waist, chopped trailers
All the trees that should have been down are down
Said Ranger Bob, his oars dipping like wings of falcon
In the river, mussels lure for hungry fish, shooting eggs
Into their gills—teeth to hang on, and legs
To go home. The St. Croix unfolds a silk ribbon
Our boat cuts–no sound of humans–only turtles bathing
On rocks, and horseflies taking chunks of meat!
Our breath moves with the damselflies—their wings
Of butterfly, neon turquoise & black so sweet

We raise our oars to follow summer flood
The river runs through us—our kin, our blood

XI

In Memory of Todd

The river runs through us—our kin, our blood
Big Dipper, solar winds, life in tannin earth

From Solon Spring to Prescott, 250 miles of flood
We follow clams, milkweeds…odes from same birth

We skid rapids glittered with gold—the stars girth
Our napes. Namekagen, home for sturgeon dreams

Mahnomen—berries for fish, loons, our daily hearth
Spirits of Minnesota, Wisconsin… In salty streams

We turn boats with boils and eddies, our screams
Echoed by thrushes, tents full of stubborn

Mosquitoes, thunders, yet when coffee steams
Through the rain, and mist ties the river into a ribbon

We sit, and the world within begins to unravel
As each blade of grass turns with its angel

XII

Every blade of grass turns with its angel
Every breath we make churns your heartbeats
A child becomes Father’s man in the cradle
A wave is a wave is a wave regardless our defeats

A lie bends and bends around the purple night
At twilight the mask unveils a scorched soul
A cycle of 64 days of riches from the scorpio kite
The way is open, then shuts with a gaping O

The hammer, anvil and stirrup, the smallest bone
In the sea of cochlea, a spiral, a million fingers
Brushing ecstasy to the seat of throne
A ripple is a ripple is a ripple forever seeking the seekers

This is the gift I owed you from future and past
This is my eye—blindly—in the river wild and fast

XIII

For Chen Guangcheng, the Blind Lawyer from China

This is my eye—blindly—in the river wild and fast
Through the steely gaze, towards a promised freedom

Rumors storm, back and forth, between ocean currents
Machines clank to grind a small man’s plea for freedom

Not for asylum or paradise, not for money or fame
All I want is a room in this giant country, a freedom

To take children to school, to guide my sisters out
Of the maze, free to be mothers again, free

To raise the young, grow old in peace, a place where
Hunger, prison or death can’t blackmail freedom

Where the poor, the blind, the colored, the small
Can live in dignity and joy. Freedom is never free

Must pave with eyes, ears, hands…brick by brick
With a heart willing to bleed till it breaks free

XIV

A heart willing to bleed till it breaks free
The air drags daggers through nose, lungs, spleen
Across Duluth streets—flashflood, raging trees
At Fort Collins, wrathful gods for our deeds
The spill sprayed with dispersants, black turned white
No flies would lay lava, rotten ships, reeds…
“We’re eatin their evidence!” shouts Waddle
Thrusting a shrimp with deformed brain, legs, seeds
All the blood wants is flowing to the heart
All the rivers dream is running to the sea
A thousand flags, a thousand hearts and hands
The road ends here, splits into a bird’s feet

Please forgive what we made with our greed
Let rivers move without our want or need

Crown

Let rivers move without our want or need
This beauty–so simple in its agate seed

Moon on river’s bend, long day of mayfly
Who gave us the hand to feel your sublime?

Our heart keeps beating at its own pace
Back from the deep, how do you keep the same?

You hold us to the place– this beat, this faith
Nobody claims rivers at the endgame

A swan’s touch, neck bending into a bow
The river runs through us—our kin, our blood

Every blade of grass turns with its angel
My eye—blindly—in the water wild and fast

A heart willing to bleed till it breaks free
My lord, the geese are painting the sky with a V

 

Passover Hagadah
Prayer from the sick, the homeless, the hungry children

May no land be barb-wired with checkpoints, bombs, armed guards
May your dams release a sliver of the river into our parched land
May you see our hungry eyes as you pile meat and sweets on gilded plates
May you feel our chapped lips as you drink wine from your crystal glass
May our Mother never worry about the next meal, next shelter for us
May you never leave your new-born behind, seeking pleasure in Amsterdam
May you taste the tears of slavery as you dip the herb in the bitter sea
May no plane fly into buildings, its demolition enriching a few rich
May no more banks seize our homes, food, clothes, books
May the world be free from this insatiable greed, this need to reap, plunge, kill
May kindness return with kindness, and no one spit into our hands that feed and love
May you never scream at our Mother: we’re not married, so you don’t get a penny
May your blonde bride treasure the house and garden our Mother built on her knees, brick by brick
May you remember the brown hands that knead your Matzah, the yellow milk that nurses your sons, the black feet that walk through the radish fields, the red faces that bring your Gefilte fish
May the wealth of the earth be spread to every being
May rivers run free, mountains stay green, and the air pristine
May you understand every sentient being is chosen by God, every spirit must be treated with reverence
May we be born into fish, birds, beasts, men into women, white into the colored, the rich into the poor, Jews into the Arabs, Europeans into Indians, and vice versa, in live memories, in full compassion
May 7 billion voices chant in unison: shalom, shalom, shalom
As the sun sets, at this season, on such a night

 

 


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