Wednesday, 1 October 2014

[archived]: autobio poems by changming yuan -2

2014, 6, 29. sunday.

Well, Well, the Well
            (for Yuan Hongqi)

In the lowest terrain of
My father’s native village
Used to be an old well
As deep as the memories
Of last century, around which
Boys would be running
At noon in summer
And girls dancing under the willow
At midnight, where my father
Often sat, listening to his sick mother
Telling stories about his unknown ancestors

The well finally ran dry
After God knows how long, and
Since electricity came across the hills
And ponds, nobody has returned to it
Except mosses and lichens that have colonized
The whole territory, where only my grandma’s ghost
Shines down from time to time
Trying to guard its walled-in secrets
Now as dry as its mouth

Village Accent

Growing up in a remote Chinese village
I can never get rid of my country accent
Even since I began to speak Mandarin
As those in big cities or on television do

While attending college in Shanghai, I felt deeply hurt
Each time a teacher or classmate made fun of my dialect
But inside of my own home, I feel truly delighted
Whenver my wife or son imitates my English speech act

To make myself sound less foreign in a foreign land
I often hope to wear a mask covering my voice print
Like a big soil-colored birthmark near my mouth
Or perhaps, to have a tattoo formed around this area

Yellow Joke: A Chronicle Poem
            The first three years of age reveal all in a lifetime –Chinese Proverb

Age 1

Born to a heliocentric species
You have accomplished your very first
Revolution in the solar system, like the sunflower
Growing behind the fence
Of your father’s front yard

With no milk from my mother or a cow
I had to live entirely on flour soup
Not so nutritious to my legs and hands
But helpful with the growth of my heart
Though it is congenitally ischemic

Age 2

After numerous assisted trials
You start to walk alone, walk along
Constantly tumbling,
Hurting yourself hard,
But you have to stand up
On your own, since you can now
Cry, scream, speak, give orders, ask for help
Even though it’s just a 2 word sentence

Age 3

A time of temper tantrums
Imaginative fears, nightmares
When you begin to touch shadows
With your chubby hands
With the even chubbier fingers
Of your hypertrophic heart

Kinship: For Yuan Hongqi

Yes, we are father and son, but so often
Did I doubt this simple small biofact: 
We could never say more than three short
Sentences to each other when we met, nor
Did we meet more than three times per year
Before I managed to flee a thousand miles 
Away from you, and later ten thousand away
From your village on this world’s other side 

Like other Chinese fathers, you never said 
You loved me, gave me a hug, or touched me
Unless it was a cutting pinch in the arm
Or a heavy hit on the butt, (always in surprise)
While my peers kept bragging aloud
About their great fathers, grandfathers
I looked down upon you, not because of 
Your slight stature, but because of your
Smaller personality, constantly calling you
‘A Buddha outside, a Devil at home’
(Of course behind your back), so I used to 
Feel guilty, fearing I could never shed
Any teardrops when you die, just as every
True Confucian son is supposed to

Unlike me and my son, with a big store of
Co-memories ready to share, to cherish
We were born enemies, karma-determined
In our former lives, just as you had explained 
To my mother, (who would be busy filling
In each new crack on our wall, with a big pail
Of muddy mixture every time we met)

Yet ever since your death at the dawn of 2012
I have been haunted by your image, kindly
Smiling, and even sobbed my heart  out 
While dreaming last night: are you there, Dad?

Tomb Visiting: For Yuan Hongqi

Last year, before burying your ashes
Right beside Grandma’s grave site 
(To guard her Buddhaship, as you had
Wished), I opened your urn for a peek
And found your biggest bone chip
Glistening against the January wind
As pink as a piece of charcoal

Now, too far to attend your anniversary
Like every other good Confucian son
Burning joss sticks and fake money
Lighting a huge pile of firecrackers
Before your tombstone, on Big Wok Peak
But I did make three loud kowtows
Towards the east, and in so doing
I saw a little rosy cloud drifting around
Like an inflated bird beating its wings 
Along the horizon, amid evening glows
And wondered whether that’s your spirit
Still lingering between earth and heaven

What was it tightly holding in its beak:
A heirloom, or simply our family name?

Recalling: For Yuan Hongqi

‘Wait a while!’ Mother would shout, ‘they say
There might be more showers this afternoon.’
So I recalled, from time to time
How he would turn a deaf ear to her
And continue, dragging out quilts
Sheets, pillows, blankets, padded coats
One pile after another
Like moving forests
Hanging them on thick ropes
Tied to deformed poplars or lamp posts
‘Not again! This old man of mine just wouldn’t
Want to waste a single ray of sunlight.’
            And remembered, for nearly half a century
My dad had tried each time to empty the whole house
And sun-wash everything, more like a grandma
Than like a father, even during the Cultural Revolution
            Now realizing how I have been haunted
By his stark image, smiling, in blue, ever since
He nodded his head to Mother for the last time
About 5 pm on January 2 last year
            I find myself choked again with gratitude: 

It was my father who gave me so many a chance
To smell fresh sunlight in my boyish nightmares

January 2: For Yuan Hongqi

That was the day when my father died
Before finishing the longevity noodles
Mom’s trying to feed him below our feet
On the other face of the planet, where
He had persisted long enough to allow
Us to celebrate another new year’s day
In Jingzhou as well as in Vancouver
When my brother’s only son managed to
Travel all the way to Grandpa’s dying bed 
To report how he was doing in New York

This was also the time when I and Hengxiang 
Felt like making love again after another
Cold war, when Iran successfully testfired
Two long-range missiles in the Persian Gulf
To deter the invasion to be led by Uncle Sam
And his running dogs, when the very first
Plymouth Neon was made in 2000, when JFK
Became a senator in 1960, when a stamped
Took 66 human lives after a soccer game
At the Ibrox Park Stadium in Scotland
Even earlier, and when God was taking
A long overdue nap, since he knew
All was well with this wild wild world

On that day, I became the oldest male
In my entire family, ready to take my turn
To deal with death in a masculine manner


You love ‘Y’, not because it’s the first letter
In your family name, but because it’s like
A horn, which the water buffalo in your
Native village uses to fight against injustice
Or, because it’s like a twig, where a crow
Can come down to perch, a cicada can sing
Towards the setting sun as loud as it wants to
More important, in Egyptian hieroglyphics
It stands for a real reed, something you can
Bend into a whistle or flute; in pronouncing it
You can get all the answers you need, besides
You can make it into a heart-felt catapult
And shoot at a snakehead or sparrow, as long
As it is within the range of your boyhood

13 May 2012: For Liu Yu

This is the very first and last time
We celebrate a non-Chinese holiday
Here in a chosen country
At a chosen time: Today, I have had
A chance to treat my mom (visiting us
From the other side of the world
After my dad’s death) to a dinner
At Southsea Fish Village, where she tasted
Dishes like abalone and shark fin soup
Finally affordable, all freshly served
Out of my poetry, before my poet son
Cut my wife a single lilac flower
From the front yard of his teenager heart

Family Reunion: Once, and Forever

Yuan Hongqi, may your spirit, Dad, come
And join us from Pure Land in this poem
(Conceived in and dedecated to Vancouver)
With Liu Yu, my mother, who is paying us
A visit from the other side of the world
Let’s gather together behind these thin lines
Where I and Hengxiang Liao, my old girl
Have prepared a big dinner according to
Our own recipes. Please, sit here with Mom
Above my central metaphor. First, take a sip
Of Luosong Soup, our only family specialty
George Lai and Allen Qing, my two sons
Always love to drink, even Hyunjung Lee
(George’s Korean wife) finds it agreeable --
By the way, the young couple has finally
Decided to buy a condominium in Sunnydale
Now, try some consonance, and this assonance
Fried with Tofu, a course you never heard of
In your lifetime. Look, right beside you is
Julian Han Yuan, your most favored grandson
The pride of our family who’s doing his PhD
In New York, and across the table are Liu Yun
My brother and his current wife Chen Jing
Still working far away in Jingzhou, China

Dad, since you were a vegetarian, a Buddhist
Let’s have internal rhyme instead of wine, let’s
Celebrate our grand family reunion. Cheers!

Telephone Ring: A Double Century Lament

You most imprudent trespasser
On a private lawn, you most
Tyrannical ruler of
The household, each time
You ring, you sound like
An old dying father making
A loud name call
No son or daughter can
Turn a deaf ear to you
Nor can I afford to wait
Just a single moment
Even when I am busy
Sowing seeds in my girl’s most fertile field
Dreaming about winning the biggest jackpot
Making an e.transaction to avoid bankruptcy
Writing the best line for the poem of my life
Or fumbling my way directly to heaven

Yes, you are the most disturbing invention of humankind
Most necessary evil in the heart of my home

Brotherhood: For Liu Yun

how fortunate I am
to be your brother
(only occasionally visiting you
from the other side of our planet)
rather than your wife: I can never
stand your snorting
not because I would have to
choke myself constantly with insomnia
but because I would be worried to death
about the way you might stop breathing
while we are still dream-chatting
about how we were often deeply trapped
in the frog pond
of our naked boyhoods


we, yuan ii, by the grace
of god, emperor and autocrat of
all english words, king of dreamland
grand duke of assonance and
consonance, author of
allen qing yuan, architect of
george lai yuan, last scribbler of
poetic lines, et cetera et cetera
et cetera et cetera etc

herein proclaim ourselves as no extra ordinary line
but an ellipsis...

friday: 8 december 2012

above a bushy valley
i rose, without a body
under a sky shining blue
with moonlight, all muted
it is definitely not my imagination, rather

it is my consciousness gathering together
at a transparent, shapeless spot of time, gliding
like a bird along the bank covered with reeds
drifting around until it entered, invisibly of course
a three-storied house walled with dark glass
almost half planted in a big pit, where i met
a group of children, playing hide-and-seek with them
then i retreated through the back window like a smoke
flowing into the air, vanishing into another universe

a vision neither wakeful  nor dreamy
is this ultimate meditation?


                        my destination was preset
you will receive a parcel
            by express.  It turns out

all too expressly, and
the sender was my parents
        who had wrapped themselves
                        inside already

[meditating in marpole]

you hear him listening to the song
of another universe...
discordant ecstasy as you visualize
before he wakes up

to the flowering of lilac
in his front yard
after the hibernation

[h's heart]

not unlike a lost cat
her heart is ready to stalk
behind the walking shadow
of the first angler it happens to see
on an empty street
who always has
a few leftover baits
in his fishy basket
while returning home


seeing the strange belts
like little mouth masks
hung on bamboo poles
I often wondered:
what kind of clothing was that
so funny looking
in front of almost every straw-thatched cottage
but you boys don't bother about that
until one of my aunts told me
on a showering afternoon

it was only until I began dating
with a girl in a major city, so close
to beijing many years later
did I get to know them 
to be no other than menstrual rags

(a taboo of human blood?)

although they actually looked
more like shrunken flags
than thick masks

that's all I remembered about my boyhood
my native village, my motherland

Father’s Soliloquy: For YCM

The other night, before the cock crowed, or
The crow cocked out of darkness, a yellowish
Shape stalked in vision, as in blank verse
‘Mark me,’ it says, sounding almost exactly
Like my late father. ‘Lend thy very serious
Hearing to what I shall unfold.’ Suddenly alerted
I got up among figures, between dream and sleep
‘When you were a teenager, I hated you so much
For looking at me always with your eye whites
Giving me an ugly face each time I talked to you
So much so that I cursed you numerous times in
My dream for being such an unworthy son; I often
Doubted if you were my own flesh until you grew
Into a normal loving adult, making me feel guilty
All my life; also, I was suspicious of your mom
Betraying me, not only in heart but also in body
I almost caught her making love with some guy
On our own bed - -You still remember that small
Apartment we used to live in? Among all my dadly
Secrets, these two I want to reveal to you first
Next time, I will tell you more about the limbo
Between hell and heaven, with the lightest word
Which might harrow up thy spirit, burn up thy
Blood…’ now the cock crows, and I must vanish

Entering Adulthood: To George and Allen

The most important tip for you, Sons
Is to forget all the tips any father
Any book, any computer can give you
About this world, but just remember
This: the moment you step
Out of the boundary of our little home
You will have to remain
On high alert, even while dreaming
What you will cross is a snakeland, where
There is as much sunshine, fresh air
As many blue skies, green leaves
Fragrant flowers, handsome
Human figures, as cobras, mambas
Taipans, adders, kraits and vipers

Notice to End a Tenancy: for Steve Mondor

Hi there, I am publishing this short poem
Not because I truly need to bribe you
Into moving out of the house of my heart
(As you proposed – I am not sure if you
Meant what you were saying), but because
I want to voice my tribute to the way
You have served 2 terms for the country
We both love, and kept fighting against
Posttraumatic stress disorder we both hate

Indeed, by becoming part of my poetry
Will you give me more time to focus on
My poems as you on your customers’ cars?

Personality Overdrafting

Born with a deformed heart muscle
You are as timid, introvert and cowardly
As a little quiet chick, but all your life
You have been trying to play tough, forcing
Yourself to be tough-minded, tough-bodied
Like an iron fighter rooster in the legend
Until now your worsening ischemia
Drives you into your old premature selfhood
With cardio neurosis, trembling, all
Thanks to a tenant, a sociopath, a rattlesnake
More evil than Satan, whose greatest joy
Is to destroy you as a petty landlord
Of a rental property full of foreign words

My Fortune Teller Says

According to the eight Chinese pictographs
Set right at the moment of my birth
My original being is actually a huge body
Of water, predetermined to move
Around like a strong stream, with an
Ambitious and transparent heart, I was meant
To find great joy in traveling through woods
Absorbing metal elements along the way
Until I join the western sea, but I should
Avoid earth, which hinders my progress
Preventing me from reaching my destiny

Water-fated as I am, let me keep flowing
Forward, among words, woods, and worlds


Black is this year, both because
The ominous number has flooded the world
With America’s QE3, Snowden’s dark secrets
And war threats from Obama, the Nobel peace
Prize winner and, more important, and because
This is the year of the snake, the most difficult
Year in my entire life when I have been badly
Bitten by 3 vcious vipers; one has run away
With a piece of meat from my heart
Another trying to strangle me
Into a slow death, and the third still waiting
To swallow my hardened body
With its young and ambitious mouth, all
Sloughed out of the attractive terror of white

September 7

The other night, I dreamed I carried my teenager
Son in a big brown-colored paper bag under my
Left arm, trying to plod my way to the hospital
In the rain in a strange town; as I trudged forward
I found him somehow shrinking into two femurs
And vanishing into the sky, like the yellow crane
In a legend of my native land. In grief, I cried my
Heart out, until I saw him returning to my mom’s
Mud-floored, straw-thatched home, big and strong
Smiling in his boyish face. Suddenly thrown into
Such ecstasy, I could not help kneeling down, kow-
Towing to him as if he were my Buddhist master
When I told my mother the next day, she laughed
Aloud on the world’s other side: it was good omen
Meaning our Allen Is going to survive and succeed

Twilight: for Liu Yu

My heart muscle contracts, excruciatingly
Like an overly-wound spring, ready to break
Each time I imagine my mom walking alone
Towards the dusty evening, while she used to
Go downstairs first, waiting aloud for my dad:
‘Grandpa, what are you still busy doing there?
It’s time to take a walk outside, along the moat!’

Now without a companion, my mother does not
Have to wait or hurry for anyone, but how she
Just misses the days when her shadow and my
Father’s became longer and longer, side by side
As they strolled slowly, until the sun set lower
And lower above the blurred horizon of autumn

Walking with Father: For Yuan Hongqi

One thing I forgot to mention, Dad
Is I intentionally moved either before
Or behind you, each time we happened
To be walking together. That way, you could
Neither pinch my arm not slap my face
So readily; otherwise, you would have to
Embarrass yourself if you ran forward
Or waited to do so, as you tried to
Educate me in anger. Since my departure
From my home town beyond the pacific
How often have I hoped to walk again, just once
Side by side with you, getting or offering support
Whenever either of us needed it

But now I could only follow your footprints behind
Step by step, while you wait to beat me in heaven, smiling

First Touch of Femininity: For Chen Yeqiong

I do not remember how it started
Nor am I sure about how it ended, but
It was on almost every evening
Of that summer, you would answer
My secret signal by waiting there for me
Beside trembling reeds, on a sandy dune
Wrapping my entire boyhood
With your girlhood, tightly
While I buried all the 13 years
Of my life between your bloated breasts

Although we both held our breaths
In nervousness and tranquility
We had no more urge
Than to take a break
In each other’s teenaged tenderness
Saying not a single word
Not even knowing how to make love
But just letting the breeze flirting with our feeling
Between sleep and wake. That’s as early
As half a century ago, on the other side of
This world, until now you find yourself called
Softly, in a foreign tongue after your death

Inviting My Father’s Spirit

Never did we get along, Dad, before
You gave us all up, and seldom did
We even talk, so you had no idea of
How your son really felt about you
As a father, in particular, about your
Grooming habits: each time you
Returned from your office or trips
You skinned us off and washed all
Our clothes, sheets, towels, mops
Cleaning furniture (including
Every foot’s bottom), polishing
Lamp covers and cooking utensils
Though you often forgot to put them
Back in good and tidy order; true
I learned to love your cleanness
But never the way you were so busy
Doing all this like an old woman

Now you are taking a long break
Up there, (where I supposed all
Is perfectly clean); do you, do
You enjoy watching me cleaning
Everything down here to keep
My home and heart dust-free?

Memo to Yuan Hongqi

Another thing I forgot to mention, Dad
Was I always believed you to be an
Extra-ordinary father, but in a highly
Embarrassing way: each time you saw
Me hanging around with my buddies 
You kept saying this like a big broken
Gramophone: “Follow Chairman Mao’s
Teachings; Follow the Party’s great
Lead,” just as you drove me crazy
By trying to convert me into a true
Communist like yourself, even
When we happened to be eating
At the same table. Still remember?
You once forced me to kneel down
On the hard ground until I finished
Reciting Mao Zedong’s “Three Old
Essays.” It was then I began to defy
You blindly, to follow no other than
My own heart, in a boyish rebellion
Against your fatherly dictatorship
Against any other form of tyranny

Private Talk: for Yuan Hongqi

Show yourself, Dad, I know you are around
Always trying like a true angel to protect
Me; let it be like those days when I was still
A teenager, but I will tell you all you wanted
To know about my feeling; for instance, I don’t
Like you to force me to recite Chairman Mao’s
Quotations, and I hope you would put Jin Yong
Rather than Karl Marx under my young pillow
Yes, let it be as if we were both younger, healthier
Suffering from no ischemia, our family curse
But having plenty of blood flowing behind our
Yellowish chests; let it be that we have no secrets
As father and son, and work together to help
Our offspring survive and succeed in this degrading
World, so full of snakes, snares and snobs

Intimacy: in the Name of Art

Once upon a long long time ago
At a drab karaoke corner in the far far east

Half-heartedly, without knowing this was
Actually a prearrangement made by
His old mischievous schoolmates
He climbed upon a colt-like girl
From his small native town
Squeezing several drops of yellow syrup
Into a tiny plastic bag embedded
Between her thick legs, like a primitive robot
Fulfilling a domestic task; there was
Neither foreplay, nor after-joy,
No orgasm, no dirty talk, no eye contact
No exchange of names, feelings, experiences
Except a big-solidarity, as red-faced
As the muted memory of his red pasts
When they departed in a dull evening

Did he eventually write a poem about this experience
As he had hoped?

Song of a Tone-deaf: for Allen and George Yuan

There is often such a time when you, a no-songster 
Would want to sing aloud to yourself, a song
That everyone else might also love to sing; the song
Whose lines you never remember, nor can you
Control your pitch as it rises and falls randomly
On its own, nor will you keep the tune on the
Right track; the song whose rhythm you do not
Care to follow, while lost in your little privacy
The song that has an evasive melody
Deeply encoded in your heart

Although you sound like a duck or donkey
Your voice is full of euphonies

Marpole, Vancouver: for Liu Yu

It rains a lot in Vancouver
Often does this rain remind me of
The days when you sojourned here
With my family, after Father left all of us

While walking in the rain, you would
Recall, under my big umbrella
How you once waited in a drizzle
With me in a broken basket on your back
To cross the widening river, not far
From our village when I was crying hard
For a large spoonful of flour soup (you were too
Weak and too hungry to produce any milk)

Seeing you do nothing about my hunger
The ferry man asked, Where is its mom?
I am his mother!  You replied, tears rolling down
With the raindrops on your childish face
How old are you then? – Almost 17.

It is raining again in Vancouver, and beyond this rain
Your voice echoes aloud on the other side of this world

Childhood Secrets

When I was three or four, I buried
Several hard-gained marbles
Near our rented room, hoping one day
They would grow into magic trees

Half a century later, I dug them all out
On a dull afternoon. The moment
I put the first one on my table, a flock
Of crows flew up; when I thought of
The second, it burned like a forest fire

Now I hesitate to write the word ‘immortality’
Lest my last marble should melt with diamonds


Born in a year of the rooster
You were fated to crow

But not so high in the sky
Like any other bird flying fast by
Rather, you perch low
Low on a broken fence
(Still reserved for ghosts and spirits)
Crowing as aloud as you can
To welcome every sun
Looming above the dawn

Yes, you are vociferous, both because of
Your breed, and your personality

Song of a Tone-deaf: for Allen and George Yuan

There is often such a time when you, a no-songster 
Would want to sing aloud to yourself, a song
That everyone else might also love to sing; the song
Whose lines you never remember, nor can you
Control your pitch as it rises and falls randomly
On its own, nor will you keep the tune on the
Right track; the song whose rhythm you do not
Care to follow, while lost in your little privacy
The song that has an evasive melody
Deeply encoded in your heart

Although you sound like a duck or donkey
Your voice is full of euphonies

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