Van Gogh at Auvers-sur-Oise
First, you see the field. The rows
of corn rubbing their starved bodies
against each other. The pale boys
with their dry hair and wet backs,
lying across themselves like floorboards
over your body. Your body, painting
the field with itself, shaping
raw potatoes from flat rocks, burning stars
from gunshot wounds. In your mind,
the boys chase their cowboy hats down to the stream.
The stream is a vein in your body.
It has spilled over the world and is covering
the room where people are asking, Why
did you do it? Would you know that you’re
hanging on a wall, your eyes
still open, shaking under the light?
In your painting, the sky is your mother
when she wipes the soap off the table.
Above the field, it is silent.
But is that what you were asking?
Is that what you wondered
when you were lying in the dark,
the colors spilling from your head,
the voices calling for each other
across the damp air?
Nine Engravings Found in Barracks on Angel Island
From 1910 to 1940, Angel Island, located by Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, served as a prison-like detention center for over 175,000 Chinese immigrants. For days, weeks, or even months, Chinese detainees were interrogated and left in poor living conditions. In 1970, an island ranger uncovered sets of poems on the walls of the barracks, written in the traditional Tang style. Some phrases have been borrowed from the original poems and are noted in italics.
Grief sits as a sad person by the window.
My wife told me not to pick wildflowers on the way here,
but how could I not when I saw the cherries falling
with a ripe thump, the magpies singing to the dandelions?
At home, not half a cup of rice could be scooped from the pot.
This is a land with laws like tigers.
Confucius met a tiger, once. It had eaten the family
of a woman weeping by the side of the road. Devoured
the hands of her husband. When asked why she didn’t leave,
she replied that at least it was a tiger.
Surely a tiger is better than something bigger, fiercer,
At home, I plowed the fields. Here,
I am a swallow with a wooden frame. The waves
are hungry children who grab at my ankles.
Wasn’t Napoleon once a prisoner on a lonely rock?
The daughter of Yandi drowned while playing in the sea
and turned into a golden bird. Now, she fills the sea with pebbles,
dropping them from her beak, one by one. This is her revenge.
To fill the sea until it spills over.
The migrating goose complains to the moon,
lamenting on its harried life. Does the grass
not complain of withering? Don’t the orchids shiver
at their wilting?
I left for this land when the Maiden Weaver met the Cowherd boy.
She escaped to the moon on a bridge of magpies. Dipped her
feet in the warm waters of galaxies. Kept her loom silent.
This is more of a parable— not a plea.
Aren’t we all hoping for a sky bridge towards heaven?
Perhaps it won’t come. Perhaps we’re all writing ourselves
from the inside out.
Looking Through Photos of the Tiananmen Square Massacre
It depends— sometimes
there is no blood. College
kids with too much time.
Too much impulse and
not enough mouth. Too
much mouth and not enough
fist. These are the dangers
of opening your mouth until
it spills. White tiles painted
warm. College boy with
too much time, read a page
of Marquez. Thinks he’s a genius.
Now, a cold body against cold
limestone. Not enough fist.
Students gathering in front
of tour buses, pointing.
Look at what you did. Look.
Soldiers in the uniforms
of their fathers. Man and woman
standing under a bridge,
umbrellas drawn. Trucks above.
Boys standing over a bruised
policeman, smiling. Look
what we did. Papers from the sky.
Papers burning. In the square,
they build a statue of a goddess,
Lady Liberty for those who
crave it. Girls with tanned faces.
Girls with green sweaters. Plaster drips.
Beijing, June 4th. I search
online for the word “candle.”
Outside, soldiers march. Blank
tiles, blank screen.