I received a rejection from Copper Canyon Press regarding my poetry manuscript titled ‘Passing in the Middle Kingdom’ though the editors commented that the title poem is ‘powerful, feminist, and well-executed’. The manuscript has been edited since this submission and was also a a semi-finalist for the 2017 Wilder Poetry Award (a prize named after Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of my favorite childhood authors).
This image of Ace, Cillian, and Keohi on Pui O beach was shot in 2013 and taken after a hike from Mui Wo to Pui O. It was a wonderful day spent with the boys and their mothers, Winny and Hua. I lifted the image from my old blog that I had begun to write around the time I moved from Los Angeles to Mui Wo in 2008: www.buddhafun.blogspot.com. This blog documented my early days of expatriate life with my family in the then very sleepy, but now, increasingly busy village of Mui Wo on Lantau Island.
Parallel to the blog entries were the poems written for the collection which are almost entirely different in tone and outlook. I think of it as the simultaneity of joy and sorrow. The wicked hope for deliverance. The poems came from a place of uncertainty and hesitation, a moving into a foreign space both literally and emotionally of motherhood, marriage, and Hong Kong, and the very real necessities of compromise, self, and longing. I wrote the manuscript over a course of seven or eight years, and while I consider myself to be fiercely devoted to the often structured arc of narrative, it is always to poetry, and its somewhat fluid space that I return to when I have no words to express my feelings. Poetry can clarify moments of surface ambivalence to reveal the ferocity of who we are and how we dream. Poetry is highly subjective and very much dictated by personal experience in what we cleave to in terms of style and reading preferences. I wrote this manuscript during a time when I doubted my very existence as a writer as I felt it to be subsumed by the demands of motherhood and the exhausting, if not violent realities of modern life.
I thought I would post the title poem here below:
“Passing in the Middle Kingdom”
In silence I am unseen: black hair, brown eyes,
a willful mute clocking centuries of emperor absurdities.
Old men crush the young, strangle skies
that held them to its breast,
black suits killers of alphabet dreams:
their factories vomit smog, slay lungs for trinkets.
I claim no kinship or love.
My body of a distant wayward province
that refused to kowtow,
a vassal state that defied the edict.
Battle imprints, spears and arrows,
course through my blood.
My mind shaped across the ocean
by genocide and art that broke shackles.
Hope finds harbor in private slips,
but boats leave only to sink.
In the distance, palm tree lyrics,
a Pacific heartbreak that turns my knees to jelly.
A Cosmopolitan is a sugary cocktail. Exile? A door slammed shut.
Migrants flee to suffocate under blankets in trunks scrub floors with blistered hands.
Expatriates scribble bitterness for love and dollars.
Tourist is another word for the lover of refrigerator magnets. Refugees suckle the powder milk of dreams.
There are no countries of safe return Death, this planet’s final Home.
Great Walls never crumble.
The cannibal rulers drive sleek cars,
fatten prey in gulags.
Logos hide auctioned organs stored in copy handbags.
Survival: a cup of tea, a piece of lace,
layers of gold polish over dirty fingernails, ringed nostrils majestically flare.
I shut my ears to poetry of Homeland tours,
read tomes on dumpling glories and hotels.
The West spills magic dust,
but digs impossible holes,
myths of Home and belonging.
Children seek privacy in closets, weep behind smudged glasses.
Later, they write of steamed rice comfort, confused hearts, the hurry-hurry of it all.
Buried somewhere, exodus and crippled feet,
limbs of swimmers ravaged by sharks, driftwood freedom.
I close books, bite my tongue until the blood stains my shirt.
Bamboo scaffolding traps the blazing sun,
minnows dart from bent wire nets,
boulders plead for space.
In our village the women long for sons,
rubber slippers cannot escape switches
that scar backs and calves.
This place gently breaks us, burying us
alive in memory’s hole. I say nothing.
Passing in the Middle Kingdom.