This week a cousin if mine passed away. I was asked to be a pall bearer at her funeral. When it happened, my first thought was what it was going to do to her family. Her young daughter, mother, two uncles, and grandmother (my aunt) were understandably devastated. It was a senseless waste. I wrote a poem about this obligation and my feelings toward it. Here is her obituary, beautiful but unable to fully capture the person she was and is. My mom waited for you in Heaven, love. She waits for me as well.
Yesterday was the 8th anniversary of my mom’s passing. The loss of those below came at me so fast that it was only today I could even write about it.
I found out early in the last month that my good friend, David Beckham, died in Idaho on February 7th. He was in one of the wards in Stockton when I was there as a missionary. He did whatever he could for us, despite the fact that he was on disability from a workplace accident. He drove us around and was the go to guy for anything we needed. After I left my mission, he even defended me from accusations made against me by some in the mission. It may not be common knowledge, but I was sent home a month early because of my temper and losing it with a fellow missionary. Unfortunately, I lost contact with him after this and saw him infrequently post on Facebook. I will definitely miss him. As I posted to his niece, if I ever do get to Heaven, I know this man will be waiting for me.
Another loss is that of Coach Billy Burge to cancer on February 24th. He was a long time teacher in Walker and worked with my mother for what seemed (and probably was) decades. He was my PE coach in junior high and driver’s education instructor in high school. He taught more than half the town of Walker and will be missed by all. Thanks, Coach.
In addition, on March 8th, my dear and only maternal uncle, George Elvin Milton, was felled by a heart attack. He spent two days in the ICU before he was removed from life support on March 10th. I have spent most of the 2 & 1/2 weeks in depression over his passing. He was the patriarch and rock of my extended family. My grandfather died when he was 17 and my mother was 3, and he became in many ways the father figure for her and her sisters. He was a dedicated family historian and helped nurture this passion in myself. The only consolation for me is that he is now having a chance to talk to the many ancestors that we spent many an hour discussing. Sir, I love you and miss you, but I know you are in the arms of your parents and the Lord.
My brother convinced me to post some of my poetry online. I was really hesitant to do so, mainly because I consider it to be quite personal and I don’t care if anybody but he actually reads it. For a long time, we have emailed our writings back and forth to each other. His is substantially better than mine, with the added ability to go deeper and with more emotion than mine. Anyhow, I posted it and for the most part people were polite. Here is the link.
I write under the name Piger Max. Piger is Latin for “lazy” and Max is short for Maximus, i.e. “the most lazy”. It is not that great, but so what. I write mostly for myself anyway.
For a nation that proudly touts the five thousand years of Chinese civilization, there remains an event that the government yearly endeavors to erase from the consciousness of the its people.¹ According to this article at Foreign Policy, it seems that they are succeeding, at least within the boundaries of China. I, however, choose to remember. Even today, the beautiful idealism displayed there brings tears to my eyes. I have read and seen in documentaries many accounts of those days. I have read the biographies of many arrested and sent to the laogai. If placed in a similar situation, of standing up to a despotic government, I often question if I would have the strength to stand by my convictions. I state with pride that I would, but in searching the depths of my heart, I must state with certainty that I cannot be certain. I was not there and another such moment for me has not come. Therefore, I can only do what little I can. I remember.
For me, this picture encapsulates the measure of a man. Faceless, nameless and no doubt afraid, he stood up to the Leviathan in the only way that he could. His punishment was no doubt detention and execution, but in this moment he stood up for an entire nation. Everyday in classes that I teach, my students talk about the latest superhero movie or basketball star. Here, among the ashes of history that some would bury, stands a hero greater than Superman or Ironman. I remember.
Here is a poem by the poet, Meng Lang²:
· 孟 浪 ·
Mnemonic for 6/4: Three Nines Make Twenty-Seven
By Meng Lang
Between a bloody hand and a bloody handprint
Oxygen is interposed; smearing and rubbing have faded
What is setting forth and what is arriving—they collide together
Memory’s guards escort forgetting; some look on but take little in
Yet I want to give you a plain view of the invisible
That erstwhile partitioning and jettisoning, done directly
Those flames in the cranium that overleapt, again overleapt
Sin, ah sin, somehow learning to vanish
Twenty-seven years, the shame of an entire nation
Traces, criminological studies, having mastered ways of escape
Insert themselves in government and sit still, pretending innocence
Procession of vehicles, crowds—a thin, drawn-out line, a nerve fiber
Extracted by this pair of hands that were cleansed by means of sin
Roughly kneading a billion-some balls of dough: angry faces
Turn away, turn away, in the end to be twisted and wrenched
Ah, that wrenching sacrifice, its savor, nursing bereavement
Heavy rumbling, clamor and din, magnificence like a jetting fountain
Twenty-seven years, the enzyme of an entire nation…
The bloody handprint is printed on the sky; who would now
Point falsely? Is God’s fingerprint to be molded in plastic?
I hereby point out, this nothingness is to no avail
On the wide land, only this last bit of greenness remains
From tips of grass shake down that wordless dewdrop
She, the one who bears the whole sky’s weight
Her long sigh is heard from the deepest place
A mnemonic for something—not to be held back, not to be obstructed
Three nines make twenty-seven, followed by four sevens which make twenty-eight
( Tr. by XM )
¹Before any wumao heads explode, I want it to be understood that I despise all governments, including my own to a great extent. My politics tend toward libertarian. I have always maintained a great respect and love of the Chinese people. The government and party, despite what they wish people to believe, are not the people and thus can go to hell.
²This poem was originally published in the Mingpao newspaper, Hongkong, June 1, 2016. It was passed to me through Ohio State University’s Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Resource Center.
I have had a lifelong love of poetry. My mother was a great proponent of American literature, which she taught to mostly uninterested middle school students. She bequeathed to me a love of Poe, Frost and others. My fascination with the art has gone much further afield than this, of course.
Because of these tastes, I enjoy writing poetry, generally bad poetry. It gives me opportunity to express myself, even if it will never see the light of day or be read beyond these pages. That is not the point, as it is for me and no one else.
However, my third brother, Douglas, has a courageous heart and a willingness to put it out for the world to examine. This is no doubt aided by the fact that his rhyme and prose is infinitely better than my own. I thought then that I would share two of his below.
Luminous sheet of green,
splintering forward as we pass.
A log floats ahead,
then ominous eyes appear.
One plank left on a decayed pier,
old boat anchored to the shed,
covered in clumps of grass,
light fading and setting the scene.
Cypress trees loom larger-than-life,
holding moss like coin purses.
Standing majestic for hundreds of years,
blocking out what’s left of the Sun’s light.
This is no place to be into the night,
paddling faster as land is near.
Everyone knows of the curse,
yet the thought creates strife.
The creature goes by many names,
but locals call him Rougarou.
Morphing into a werewolf,
hunting animals and humans alike.
to evolve, to reincarnate.
and to exhaustion and back.
All to melt in a puddle –
to shed my past sins.
deflowered in reverse.
To be looked upon,
instead of through.
I have arrived.
In China today, it is Singles Day, which is kind of like Black Friday. While I think about something to buy, I want to also reflect on Veteran’s Day in the US.
Cold November winds blow
through stone laid row on row.
Trees beginning to white with frost
over the graves of men twice lost.
Once to war’s shrill blades
and again when memory fades.
I wear a poppy blood red
thinking of our home’s poor dead
and send up a thankful cry
for those who in far fields lie.
Last line is a little weak, but still works. Special thanks today to my brother John and my father, who came back. So many did not. A prayer goes out to their families.
I heard of the poet Xu Lizhi several weeks after his death in 2014. His poem, “A Screw Fell Down to the Ground” 《一颗螺丝掉在地上》, touched me. It seemed a lament to every lost soul forced by circumstances to chain themselves to the cold, crushing wheel of progress. This is not to say that I view progress as necessarily bad, but that in it there are winners and losers. Xu clearly saw himself as one of the losers. Rarely do such get a voice. Here is an excellent article about him in Time magazine, titled “The Poet Who Died for Your Phone.”
Here is another of his poems, perhaps my favorite. The translations are not my own but come from this site.
“On My Deathbed”
I want to take another look at the ocean,
behold the vastness of tears from half a lifetime
I want to climb another mountain,
try to call back the soul that I’ve lost
I want to touch the sky,
feel that blueness so light
But I can’t do any of this,
so I’m leaving this world
Everyone who’s heard of me
Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving
Even less should you sigh or grieve
I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.
In high school, I often wrote poetry. Some of it seemed decent at the time but it was really bad in retrospect. I wanted to try again, having gained experience and a larger vocabulary. I know that it is still bad, but what I write comes from my heart. This is one is about birth (today is my birthday) and is dedicated to my Maman, who is both with me and not with me. ‘Till I see you again.
A Little Perspective
White and cold*
Wrenched from home
Uncaring of my tears.
Pulled, prodded, pricked
Weighed and measured
Is that all I am?
A use for ruler and scale.
Where is the love?
Slapped and cut.
*whispering* Even down there.
This world harsh and bright.
They said out was better
Than in. Here was better
Than there. Yet, I cry.
Because they lied.
I want to go home.
*This explains my lifelong fear of white people.