Alien Prayer Flag

man_walk_sh

 

I.

 

 

For those who’ve heard a loved one gone

To visit that city and take the drive that got them lost

Visit here

 

 

The city has a name, but it’s different for everyone

I pronounce it in this way:

Ning like ning – that’s easy

Bo like bwuoh – that presents a challenge

You may know it in another way entirely.

 

 

Ah, the billion nameless hungry faces

And one lonely greasy girl steps forward

“Stay here while I fetch you a drink of water”

“Make yourself comfortable”

Drink it fast,

The cup won’t last long…

Faster, I mean it!

“This is the city of the thinnest paper.”

 

Once there, she’ll ask you to please

Not to disrupt the ritual

With your visible, drippy sobs

 

 

Eat any food that is offered to you and you’ll enjoy this

First contact, congratulations, explorer!

In this moment you are a superhero – God Grief – that’s it

Serious, staid and steadfast over all things human, in the famed city

 

 

 

 

 

 

II.

 

 

A shortening. A quickening.

Hot throat and all the internal vomits

The effect of speed on the inner ear and the return…to…stationary.

 

 

The ocular lens-clock tightens

Makes any music inappropriate

As sense bandwidth is strictly rationed

By burlap monks with spiny fingers, dirty nails

 

 

They crave silence and nobody minds skin irritation

They work on narrowing, calibrating a beam of laser light

However an occasional peek at cartoons is forgivable,

Especially since the one who is dead cannot be reached via laser

 

 

These negotiations continue

While flash is as small as starlight

 

 

“This is what it feels like” is stupidum say the monks

Torture, torch you’re, the tortured

 

 

Blank plank adrift upon furious frothy action

Then the risen smack of the real moment (y) and real place (x)

 

 

God Grief is lost in Ning (ning) Bo (bwuoh)

Stretching his hamstrings like an oblivious runner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

III.

 

 

My sister is too beautiful for most

Her goatherd tragedy spoken in smooth lines that dilate

I weep to hear her latest news

 

 

She walks around the blind city

A city of too many rabbit holes

“This is the city of the most ways to get lost”

 

She is my walking talking potential eternal sadness

The child whose smiley-face egg, once broken, shatters me

The huddled woman whom God Grief has sworn to protect

 

 

One glance into her eyes deletes the Hero’s mechanism

And sends them tumbling down a taxi-cab, flying in a light cascade

One glance spits them out into the river

 

 

(Escape is a delicious apple

A moondance Gravitron whirl of limbs

Wide, wide open to the free flow of esteem-less sex

 

 

Drink to smoke to breathe to bathe

Negating pent up penthos pours

If all are lost along the way, that’s fine)

 

 

Grief visits Beauty

The combination is deadly swollen

Each offering the other’s knife sharpener

Metal running along stone

 

 

The city towers were never so high as tonight

Each one wears a different fascinator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV.

 

 

The crowd forms

A long line on the sidewalk

It must be something good

For them to wait so long

Take a look through the shop windows –

Ah, but the sun’s glare.

 

 

One girl in line

Erupts in laughter

Throws her hand on the shoulder of the old man in front of her

And bounces bounce her bosom bounces

 

 

The old man chuckles

At the girl, heaving

At her breasts as they heave

At her buckteeth

At her breasts, at her buckteeth

At the reveal of skin

Above her pants below her shirt

Laughter belting out past

Her buckteeth and pouring

From her forged chest

 

 

And now everyone’s laughing

See, the sign on the door says:

“No More -This Is The City of Not Enough”

 

God Grief holds a Chinese churro

Dipped in soymilk

Barely tasting

Sweet, empty flavor.

Grief’s luck is strange like that…

 

 

 

 

 

 


V.

 

 

I held a shirt you wore and

All the time you wore it

 

 

A brooch was pinned to it

I removed it and put it on me

It is a heavy ceramic bust

 

 

I’ve gone through your things so many times

Look at me, I

Jingle with your many cameos

 

 

I found a hideous shell you liked

In your chest of things

Its spiky section hurt to hold

 

 

I’m starting to remember things about you that were less than friendly.

Still,

You.

 

 

The dead flesh speaks in conjugated color

Yell oh

Yel laugh

Yell ow

 

 

God Grief lost his ride along the Inner Ring highway.

Now he walks, carrying carrion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VI.

 

 

Urgency emergence in the final tally

The march away from me

My last moment to haggle:

I would die for you, who is dying

I would live for you, who is dying

 

I cannot, so

I accept the quoted price

I’ll look for firm confirmations later

When it’s still –

 

 

The dam bursts and floods a vein of ochre

Mud coating all

The thinly coated citizens

They hug and scratch and even dance.

 

 

My sister is gone

Beauty is again, ready for anything

She lifts her new hand with a whir of pistons

 

 

God Grief mumbles about a sacred cleanup

 

 

Hopeless to the last transaction,

He wanders the city of Ningbo alone

Leaves the poem

Leaves, the poem, the city

 

 

The Walk Home (a fable)

streetvend

Shanghai, 2008.

A young girl of nine (nearly ten) stands at the metal gate of her school. Her hands are free, her feet sweating in plastic clog sandals punched throughout with holes shaped like Mickey Mouse heads. Her backpack is bubblegum pink and dotted with floating shiny red lips and black high heel shoes. It is heavy with books. She stands at the gate and watches her schoolmates as they’re retrieved by their parents and grandparents, one by one, skipping happily away.

She is alone, which is unusual. Grandmother wasn’t waiting for her at the school’s gate today as she usually does, and although she knows the way home, can trace each curb, drain and slab of the sidewalk leading to her building, the disturbance of the daily, the lifetime routine is puzzling. No one told her; Mama didn’t say mention anything when she dropped her off in front of the gate this morning on her way to the office.

She can feel that her left pigtail is sagging, so while she waits for the corner crosswalk light to show the white walking man, she tucks her sweater between her legs, grabs sections of the hair in her hands and pulls. The tightening of her scalp is oddly comforting. She stands up straight. The light changes.

She takes her sweater from between her knees and crosses the street quickly. The bun vendor looks at her lone figure oddly, and she squeaks at him as she passes, incapable of saying a word. Grandma always bought a custard bun for her after school. He is a nice man, she thinks as the steam from his cart leaves her nostrils. He could help me.

Ah, you don’t need any help, she says to herself, snorting. Home is this way, you’ve walked it a thousand times before.

The young girl is on the left side of the main road. Up ahead is the long alleyway leading east to her family’s apartment, three blocks north. The bun vendor is the first bright post in a series of small food stalls on this block, one stall sidled up alongside another in an archipelago of stainless steel, dark dirty wood, buckets of water, fallen bits of greenery, old rusty stools and makeshift tables. She navigates the scattered path as she has so many times before. The smell of niu rou mian (beef noodle soup), frying bread, vinegar and the smoke of roasted animal fat lean on her, beckon her, and she becomes aware of her hunger, normally mostly satiated by a steamed bun at this point in her journey. She slows down her pace, considers the variety of each stall’s snacks. Maybe I’ll get something, she dares, quickly calculating that she carries more than enough coins for a snack in a small zipper purse in her backpack. For the first time she can remember, she is without a chaperone, and the world offers her its bounty.

She stops to stare at a young man frying youtiao.  He is sweating along his temples, and his oily hair is spotted with flour. She watches him dip the long, oversized chopsticks used for frying into a large wok of yellow oil, rotating the long sticks of sweet bread. The thin golden loaves resting on the rack looks crispy and delicious. She licks her lips and watches him grab two with a hand gloved in plastic clouded with grease, swing open a brown paper bag with another hand and shove the youtiao in, bending them in the middle as they’re placed inside.

He pushes the bag of bread towards her and she steps back to allow a customer standing beside her to take it. His hand shoves again, and shrinking, she realizes he’s looking directly into her eyes, that she’s the customer, and she should pay.

With a thrill, she takes the bag. His hand, with its long pointed thumbnail, crusted with dough and yellowed, becomes an open palm. She swings her backpack around and rests it on her knee to access her coinpurse. How much is it? The youtiao is hot in her other hand. She’s scared to ask. A steamed bun is always one; she awkwardly places one coin in his palm. He pulls it back, stares down at it and furrows his brow, sticks his palm out again.

“It’s two,” he says, bored. She is slow to react, bag of bread in one hand and coin purse in the other, backpack hanging from her elbow. She wonders if he is trying to take advantage of her. It doesn’t seem worth it now…

With sudden speed, the greasy fry cook extends his arm and puts his thick fingers in her coin purse and digs around. She watches, stunned, while he, sensing the right size and weight, clasps the correct coin and pulls it out. He shows her the coin – he only took one – and adds it to his palm, which tosses them into a small tin on his counter with a dull clank.

She stares at her purse, zips it up with the hand that holds the bread. Without another move, she runs, her backpack hanging heavy at her elbow, knocking into stools and other diners slurping noodles, oblivious. She runs until she feels her arm will fall off, finally sitting down to rest along a small retaining wall just outside the entrance of the small local park, where she’d visited with Grandmother and her parents all her life. How strange she feels now, sitting outside of this park, an extension of her home, alone. She zips up her bag, replacing the coin purse inside, and puts it back on her back. Staring at the youtiao in her hands, she takes an enormous bite and chews. It is crispy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside, just as it should be. Renewed, she gets up and continues walking home.

Turning into her alley, she smiles at the guard, who’s really just Mr. Gu from upstairs with a red armband on. She runs down the alley at top speed, and when she’d normally have to wait for Grandmother to catch up, this time she can just go right in. On the stairs, she begins to worry…what happened to Grandmother? Why didn’t she pick me up today?

She opens the door to the little apartment. “Grandmother, here I am, I’m back. Grandmother?”

She hears a faint voice. “In here, dear,” she hears the voice of her Grandmother say.

She enters the bedroom, which faces south and is full of light in the afternoons. Grandmother is seated at the edge of the bed, looking out the window to the white haze of a sunny Shanghai sky. The girl goes to the old woman and sits next to her.

“Why didn’t you come pick me up today? I waited for you.”

“I couldn’t come because I wasn’t feeling well today.”

“What’s wrong? Where is it uncomfortable? Did you eat something bad?” the little girl puts her hand on her Grandmother’s back.

“Yes, maybe that’s it. Did you get home without any trouble? You must have done okay huh. You got a snack on your way!”

The youtiao is still in her hand. The girl feels embarrassed, but she isn’t sure why. Everything felt small next to the presence of her Grandmother.

“Yes, it was nothing, I knew the way.”

“I knew you’d be fine, little one,” Grandmother pats her knee. “I knew you could do it by yourself.”