For all the street dancers who move between Swing, Folk, Jazz and the Cowboy song,
“It’s been a long hard ride home.”
Unhelmeted electric-motor bikers swarm
Nanjing streets, bike paths, sidewalks, swoop
soundlessly from behind pedestrians, graze
human calves with passing shoe leather racing
relentlessly to work. Their mission? Forced
to workplaces on time or lose their jobs (despite
unmanaged high volume traffic) they freely choose
to support clean air. Only wei guo ren * need remember:
pedestrians sharing that mission lack right of way.
Safe awhile inside the stationary shop, you view
the frenzy of fast development storming by, destroying
the lives of people it aims to serve,
view the unfolding drama as Eros and
Thanatos write it, as Chinese view it —
the past always before them, a rewinding film.
You count the mounted Venuses whose broad-brimmed
hats challenge the promised, never delivered
safety, their colorful silk scarves floating
behind them where their futures wait in blind spots,
where Isadora Duncan’s death by hanging
replays as you imagine another scarf
catching in a turning wheel. Chinese art,
once shaping subjects to make beautiful
the space around them, holds no value now,
yet you must admit these Venuses have not lost
their power to touch and transport. Inside
their world of bright Suminagashi inks
that marble and mingle with dark traffic,
you sense beauty, truth and passion coalesce — except
there is no uncertainty, mystery, doubt.
Nearly trampled under foot by others going green,
all to board the bus on Saturdays, wei guo ren ask,
Is forging ahead only what matters?
You disembark the exit door where
a mother and child force entry, pushing
you from steps into boulevard shrubbery.
Recovering from the ground up, you notice
how robot-like Nationals are, remarked
only for hard work and efficiency,
you observe their lost body-awareness, lost
intrinsic self-worth (that kind never having
been recognized) you feel their brazen courage.
Courage sans care rams grocery carts into waiting
wei guo ren — steals sans reproach their checkout
line places. Whilst Nationals count coups, you caress
your bruised thigh and read on the exit wall,
“Keep calm and carry on,” the British mantra now
Forbidden expressed pain or compassion’s anger,
you regard the irony of government goals:
“Safety and Efficiency” under the charcoal haze
hazardously painting the sun silver,
numbing wounds of family and community bonds
first disrupted by Mao’s informing regime.
You understand why people continue
to lie, continue to believe that their lies protect
them, continue to disrupt social bonds:
When fast is the way, nothing new can be learned.
Broken hearts and obstructed lungs lose biophilia.
Lost vigor, mindfulness and ennui turn
into a second mantra, Mei ban fa —
Nothing to be done. ** From whom has contempt
for vulnerability been learned?
Kwan Yin devotees had protected and nurtured
crickets, praying mantis, grasshoppers, ladybugs —
all tiniest members of the life force.
She walks toward you in afternoon sun,
the strange cyan sky accents
her incarnadine face.
From the wood pole across her shoulders hang
two baskets brimming
white, black and golden feathered chickens.
You read and share her hidden pain,
read in her eyes the sacrificial task,
read each bird’s incommensurable value,
how for them she had lavished —
her devotion, each feather a divine poem
bearing on the Breath of Life
the intricate, inextricable love
of Creator for Creature.
A smile unbidden rises from you,
just for her,
her black and rosy beauty, the light shining
from her as she walks, fascinating, transforming
the space around her.
Surprised, she feels your understanding, your awe, and accepts
and returns the smile that bonds you,
both of you become two feathers liberated
by an infinitely gentle, still good Hand writing
a new heaven
and a new earth. ***
* Wei guo ren is Chinese for ‘foreigner’.
** The same refrain that Samuel Beckett satirizes bitterly in his tragic-comedy, Waiting for Godot.
*** Reference to Revelations 21:1: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,/ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.