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Manoa 15.1 (2003) 101-105

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Three Poems

Ling Yu


an ancient cataclysm...
this chunk of rock jumped from the land to the sea
(carrying the pain of its birth
and the bruises of the thudding)
trees grow there now
bearing fruit, and good people
dwell there
but I won't describe that piece of rock
I'm looking down and watching the completeness of this map...
tilting like a two-winged roc
skimming over every inch of sorrow and joy
I extend my neck, leaving behind
a long, expansive call
reaching back to the very beginning

The Years of Famine

written on a journey, 1996


in memory my mother's river
winds around three trees at the mouth of the bay
pressing onward [End Page 101]
the woods are overgrown
with a century's brambles


are they going east?
no, they're moving south now, or
west, or north
—the flooding has matured
that's the curse of the season
seeking conversation elsewhere
on a road full of misconceptions
every path is an exit


even if we close our mouths and refuse to speak
they won't let us keep silent
chasing us with wind from the clouds until we cry out
lashing us with stinging whips of rain until we weep
but all of it happens without a sound
they haven't seen the scars
on our ankles, the backs of our knees, our throats
they're growing (oh, they're growing day by day)
up to our eye sockets...


we're running away, running towards
a land without water
like a crushed flute
the sound forsaken because the body is broken
still that's where we're heading, the way station
we're about to reach
only because even ruins can point us towards a certain solemnity [End Page 102]


we refugees are already on the road
we come upon Qu Yuan
he isn't old and haggard, he's really quite
he's probably already learned—
having offered up loyalty, innocence, and
he's left with nothing in the palms of his
      hands, only river water
that slowly rises to reach shoulders, necks,
      the tops of our heads, the sky
only then do we realize that we haven't
      actually learned
how to survive underwater
wicked spray, bright and shining
ripples on the water, flashing chains
that tighten around us
turning into a gang of hellish hedgehogs
only the children, lame in both legs
(oh, those scars, too early and too plentiful)
can come to the train station to bow to and
      praise people
like monks who have suffered a thousand
unflinching, they reach out with both arms
their scabbed eyes
so full of life


and so, we are either too weak
or too strong—simply because
we use the wealth
that comes from children...
Qu Yuan is crying now too
he sees himself through the children's eyes
he isn't old and haggard, it's just that he's in tatters [End Page 103]


we refugees have already been on the road
for several generations now, familiar faces
fill the ranks
our mothers among them too
mother, help me loosen these bonds
it was there in the keening torrents of the river's upper reaches
that I played the part of a laborer who pulled boats upstream
it was you who gave me this length of rope
and bound me up, so I wouldn't drift away
so I wouldn't shake up the incline of heaven's vault
mother, help me unravel
these confusing symbols and codes
even if the scorching sun has already branded
the scars dividing good and evil
like an invisible order of confiscation
wrapped around my naked body


the years of famine, a misunderstood era
were they exiled because they were misunderstood
or were they misunderstood because they went into exile?
(—none of this will ever be cleared up—)
the original pledge was to follow the river downstream
the ancient rooftops have sunk into quarreling...


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pp. 101-105
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