Sunday, June 22, 2014

Robert Frost in China

Blurred in red and yellow
Smeared with dancing green streaks
It falls nearly into the sea
Right up against the harbor wall it stretches
Reaching out against the purple waters
Toward the Pearl tower and river barges
The street, it teems with humanity
Nations sweep together, body to body
Languages clash and mingle like friends and enemies
While old Europe stands in architectural silence
And with quiet courage, the Canadian flag salutes from the Peace Hotel
The crush of life roils like breakers through the wide avenue
Hopping, and pushing, and scraping by
With shopping bags
And Korean beef on sticks
With fake Coach purses
And counterfeit Ray Bans
The men spit
And smoke
Its acridity holds court in the street
Amidst the roar of world
On this busiest thoroughfare
There off of it, lies an alley
Dark and shadowed
Broken slats of stone, upended and uneven
It is quieter, colder, more wondering
And from its glooms she appears
Small, short, and in many ways like a child
With plastic slipper flops, worn down and filthy
She eagerly takes us by the hand and leads us
Like children, deeper into the humid recesses of the backstreet
The deep subtlety of rotten fruit and sewage saunters with us
Like pennants, laundry hangs bannered across the width of the alley
Around a corner,
In plastic chairs, families and neighbors sit
Talking and spitting and smoking
They are waiting for us
Watching for us
Their voices rise in excitement
They lead us into their shop
Small, but overflowing
With cheap gold buddhas
XL t-shirts that shrink three sizes
Scarves, swords, chopsticks, and jade bracelets
Broken Mandarin jags out of our mouths
As we haggle and barter
We are tough customers, they are tough sellers
But the silence and solitude of the empty store pulls us in to linger
To drink in the mystery of this lonely shop, passed by
By millions who tread the world’s busiest road a few yards away.
Finally we depart, with more cheap souvenirs and less Yuan.
Our Ziajian’s echo from the alleyway as we wave goodbye to the shop owners
They turn out the light in the shop
Lock the sliding door
And return to their plastic chairs
Awaiting the next straggle of wanderlusting tourists
The darkness slips away into red and yellow lanterns and neon lights, and Starbucks and Apple and Forever 21 and Nike, as we wend our way back to rejoin the throng of nations
Crushed against the flow, walking toward the East China Sea as it
Rises up in undulating waves to hug the end of the Road.

Monday, March 17, 2014

paris. 1922.

Time worn
She sits
In heavy solitude
As August sun
Seeps through crumbling brocade
Into the maple-paneled room
Dust, eternally trapped
Rides the somber rays
In filmy, choking ranks
Her only observer
Her faithful attendant

A vintage brooch of peacock visage
Upholds her dwindling tangle
Of dalmation hair

In stringy wisps
About her wizened shoulders
Her crinkly eyes
Still distinctly blue,
Yet less distinctly seeing
Gaze at the tarnished mirror
Her reflection
by cracks

The faded wingback chair supports her fragile frame
Its damask pattern
as much as she
Ancient punch stains and
Historical coffee spills
Stalwart mementoes of former days
In her lap
Lies a pink satin sheath
With tucks and pleats
And loosened stitchings
Her purple-veined hands
As agile as eagle talons
Caress the smocking
The smoothness of the mother-of-pearl buttons
With childlike tenderness
She fingers the yellowed lace hem
And in her
Trembling tracings
She recalls the years of the dress
The silent moments
It contains

The old grandfather clock
Ticking out of tune
Ticks on
The only sound in this catacombic room
And over her head hangs the cobwebbed chandelier
Many years fallen asleep
Perhaps never to be awakened
From slumber
In green mottled frames
Dripped with
Water stains
From ceiling leaks
Photographs of bygone faces
Stare out from the
Paper prisons
Holding their breaths
In resignation

The clock ticks on
Out of tune
Out of rhythm
Keeping time as he’s bidden
The mirror trembles
Under the weight of a passing generation
Outside in the street
A little girl