…Turn those lemons into a short story complete with a raucous reading by old friends! I wrote this piece for a competition (that I lost), but went on to place it with FIVE:2:ONE and their esteemed audio-centric site. How funny to watch a truly terrible professional experience emerge as belly-chuckles art. Lemons! Lemons, everywhere I say!
Today, the Guggenheim exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” closes here in New York City.
I did not go expecting to see any works of great beauty. To be sure, there were none. But so, too, did I not expect to see a view of China’s artists straining so mightily—and exclusively—under the weight of the CCP regime. That is the singular narrative. Portrait after portrait, list after list, needle after needle, video after video: oppression. I wondered: could there not be even just one alternate voice, one perspective from a slightly different angle that had turned its head not to the sun but, instead, toward the sky?
Seventeen years ago I published this poem in the British magazine TANK. I still recognize the lost and wandering soldier who wrote it, who poked around Beijing’s Summer Palace at the height of the season. Today I feel compelled to give China a leave of absence of indeterminate length, repelled as I am by its murder of human rights giants like Liu Xiaobo (say his name). But still in my head I hear the lowing of Beijing Wanbao! and I recall my friends and students, my landlord Yang, my neighbors. They remain and work, I believe, to make the country better even as I disappeared into an aisle seat on a long-ago United flight. Here’s to those twin poles: courage and cowardice.
Lately I’ve been thinking about misunderstandings. Like, when you’re talking to a friend in your kitchen and she’s looking for something and you say “on the shelf,” and she hears “honest help.” Now she’s confused and you’re confused because she’s confused. Stuff like that. It’s especially common in song lyrics. I love Creedence Clearwater Revival and their song Bad Moon Rising is a true gem. But how many people spent years– years!– hearing “there’s a bathroom on the right” instead of “there’s a bad moon on the rise”?
If you take stock and notice– really breathe deep and notice— the world offers up a million poems a second. It is extraordinary to realize we are traveling at such a light speed and you will stop and say no! Slow down! I can’t capture it all when you move that quick! But the world will throw its head back and laugh and speed up again. That is the moment in which you come into direct contact with your own mortality. You cannot catch it all. Your time is finite. You will only reel in a handful of poems at best. Here is one.
I’ve been feeling in-between lately. I’m not young but I’m not old. I’m not rich but I’m not poor. I’m not the smartest but I’m not the stupidest. I’m not super healthy but nor am I laid out. I don’t have a ton of friends but I’m not a total loner. I am trying.