Seventeen years ago I published this poem in the British magazine TANK. I still recognize the lost and wandering soldier who wrote it, who poked around Beijing’s Summer Palace at the height of the season. Today I feel compelled to give China a leave of absence of indeterminate length, repelled as I am by its murder of human rights giants like Liu Xiaobo (say his name). But still in my head I hear the lowing of Beijing Wanbao! and I recall my friends and students, my landlord Yang, my neighbors. They remain and work, I believe, to make the country better even as I disappeared into an aisle seat on a long-ago United flight. Here’s to those twin poles: courage and cowardice.
If you take stock and notice– really breathe deep and notice— the world offers up a million poems a second. It is extraordinary to realize we are traveling at such a light speed and you will stop and say no! Slow down! I can’t capture it all when you move that quick! But the world will throw its head back and laugh and speed up again. That is the moment in which you come into direct contact with your own mortality. You cannot catch it all. Your time is finite. You will only reel in a handful of poems at best. Here is one.
I am so happy.
I am the richest girl in the world.
I am so alive.
So alive it is unbelievable.
And tomorrow is my birthday.
We’re mere inches and millimeters away from the start of the public school year here in NYC, and the District 7 high school where I work is abuzz, I mean abuzz, with go-get-it-ness and get-it-done-ness and other forms of generalized optimism before the students arrive and deflate these many tires. Ohhh man, what it is to teach. What it is.
I love that you do what you do
With holy rolling thunder.
And so from out the books to bring
A holy new high plunder.