Belief and Philosophy Divorce Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing Self-help

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: When I Sleep

This poem When I Sleep was first published in an anthology released by the Asian American Women’s Artists Association Cheers to Muses. I believe there are still hard copies of this book available through the organization. Work exhibited or featured ranged from sculpture to prints to writing. We do not create in a vacuum; at any time there are others who are creating, making, and expressing, and it’s important to note that we are not alone in this way. Women who have chosen a path predicated on expression and creativity often find themselves on the fringes of a society, and so it is important to know that you are not alone in this endeavor, that is often looked upon by outsiders as rather peculiar. It’s important to note that there are avenues of art that are always accepted by society should they fall into the matrix of womanly arts–these are not to be dismissed. But when you begin to question existing narrative frameworks art becomes dangerous.

Always remember that writing is a radical act. And as anyone who writes will tell you: writing is not a choice; it’s a compulsion.

I was remembering what a Korean American friend of my sister’s once told her: “Why can’t you just conform?” LOL. This is such a terrifying statement on so many levels. What was it about how this young woman was raised that she would level this type of criticism? Rather terrifying. The world finds so many ways to keep women compliant.

The poem below was a real dream I had many years before I divorced. I was extremely unsettled, filled with anxiety, but it was difficult for me to discern why or how as seemingly, everything on on the surface seemed to be as it should. Child. Spouse. House. Work. Check. Check. Check. It’s the potential hell of surface oriented idea of a heteronormative nuclear family that is a disguise for unrest and discontent. I found out years later, unsurprisingly that many people I knew were more or less drug-filled, bodies numbed from what modern capital declares is contentment. Purpose and happiness are complicated when it comes to obligations and definitions of women and place. Our bodies know what our minds fail to grasp. There is no peace without sleep, lack of sleep is a form of madness, and this absurd modern condition is the killing of what it means to be who are meant to be. What does one do if the dreams offer no release from the day? If the day is a continuation of what is reflected in a dream?

This poem underwent quite a few drafts. It is much shorter than the original, but I tried to keep the idea of the upset of the ordinary: How we squelch the true ideas we must confront in the daily habits of washing our face, walking across the floor, going to sleep. At this point too, I began to see how the power of beauty, youth stands with age.

There is too a refusal to awaken, because to truly rise means to live seamlessly between what is honest and to acknowledge what most deny. We live this way to shore up some idea of what should be– that is rooted in concepts of scarcity and fear.

The ideal state is to live without denial of who and what you are, to peel off the layers of sleep that seep into our waking hours, to boldly move your body, all of who you are, into a state of consciousness rooted in an awareness of mortality. Calm. Acceptance. Peace. Joy.

And now I head to the water. Have a great day. Aloha.



When I Sleep


Memory drowns in dreams—

monsters of the deep bare incisors,

scrape with scales.

Incandescent. Ravenous.

Earth’s belly spits a picture:

you run on a meadow to muses,

blossoms of poetry.

I lift my hands in a corner of disbelief.


Trapped by morning.

Eyes raise to the sun.

Escape vanquished by daylight’s rip.

Night’s pictures, a pornographic loop.


I am sorry, but I too

have impossible songs that swell.

We bend, but the nightly reprieve will not halt.


I splash water onto my face,

note lines on my neck,

imagine words murmured in your sleep

did not leak into my own.

Belief and Philosophy Divorce Health Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing Self-help

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: Genus Mui Wo

This is Mui Wo at night. The path up to my former home. It’s wonderfully quiet and there’s a calm truth to being outside with the frogs and the darkness in utter safety. Forgotten. Lost. Present.

I always felt very out of place in Hong Kong, but I have concluded that this is the nature of the city, both historically and currently, as it is a population that has been shaped by the confluence of trade, politics, and capital. It’s about movement and rather abrupt in that if you are not from the city, it’s where you come to make a deal. I always found it rather humorous that expatriates would jabber on about how HK people were unmerciful and solely concerned with finance. But uh…everyone who was there, the expatriate community–they were there to make money. Very very few expatriates are there to immerse themselves in Cantonese culture or are interested in the native population other than the ways that they provide an avenue for the accumulation of their own personal wealth or well-being. Arguably, there are many cities like this, but the racial and social hierarchies are complex in this city. Not always, but it can be very “us and them.”

There’s the indigenous population,  those that migrated from other parts of China, and those who were part and of the former British Empire–government officials, bankers, carpetbaggers, military, and explorers. Finally, there were those like me, a Korean American who ended up in Hong Kong purely by random chance, a default of a marriage to a Brit.

I was an expatriate, but not of Chinese descent, and not from the UK, nor the Commonwealth, so this made the dynamic quite different for me culturally.

A Commonwealth friend once excitedly exclaimed that there was an English speaking woman on the ferry, and in celebration of a new woman in town, there would be a get together welcoming her! There was even a gathering to greet the arrival of a Western white woman. This is when I realized the depth of the difference in the way I negotiated my existence as an expatriate of Asian descent. When you look like the majority of the population, even if you speak English, there are no Welcome Wagons for you. I thought that this must have been what life was like on the prairie in the 19th century. Like, oh the wagon is bringing out a woman from back Home etc… I know there are Korean Welcome Wagons, but personally, I have never experienced this type of thing because my identity has been so fluid. I hadn’t expected any Welcome Wagon, but I realized that life as an expatriate was different if you were not Asian and spoke English.

I remember my mom got a Welcome Wagon basket from a neighbor when we moved to Memphis. This was decades ago so my parents were integrating the white neighborhood and there was a lot of curiosity about them. I would be mortified because right when the conservative white Southern Baptist woman swung by, my mom would be there with the cleaver whacking on the cutting board with garlic rising and I could see the expression of the person’s face: “Oh my, what interesting new people…” Yes, they were different creatures in that space.

There’s a very old comedy Eddie Murphy Saturday Nite Live skit where he gets on the bus as a black/white person and the differing reactions. So often I’d hear the rantings of people’s derisive anti-Chinese comments and simply act like I didn’t understand English. I passed–hence what came to be the title of my poetry manuscript. In Asia, you have access to spaces if you are English speaking. The caste and color line become very nuanced and complicated. I had some tremendous opportunities that would not have been given to me had I been in the US. As an Asian face with lousy Asian language skills, my value was measured. If you don’t have Mandarin, given the politics of the place, it’s tough now for many, but some of the ways you move through society are personality-based.

I thought about being a different kind of species–Genus Mui Wo…I believe I was evolving into something else too, something I could not recognize. There are many ways that being out of your cultural milieu can challenge your value system, what you know about yourself, how you see the world. I was better and worse, potentially more extreme versions of who I am. This is a physical visceral sensation. My parasympathetic system was entirely out of whack. I was not feeling who I was within my former partnership, and also within my own relationship to myself. Who is the self? What is my species? How pedestrian am I? I move from being a creature of the sea to one of the sky. In a sense, this is also the story of earthly evolution. We are all from the sea and before that, the stars, and to this end we will return. Stardust.

And let’s face it, while I didn’t intend it deliberately as I wrote this piece, it touches on this idea: did you ever notice how the future is depicted in media? There are outer space creatures that have vaguely Asiatic features often featured in spandex LOL. The idea is HEY those people are MIGHTY WEIRD. Let’s uh, make them sci fi characters LOL. Because we can’t imagine them. They are perpetually Other and Foreign. As Takaki wrote, we are Strangers From a Different Shore.  I think this has long been part of my awareness of difference–being treated like a different species…so there’s that.

The reference to Korea: I almost drowned in the mountains of Korea, outside of Seoul, when I was six. We were crossing a stream, my uncle who carried me slipped. A cousin grabbed me as I went under. I pulled my uncle’s hair. It took years of swimming lessons for me to learn how to swim, although once I did, I swam quite well. After the near drowning, I would sit on the shallow end of the pool on the stairs. I hated washing my face. I terrified of the water. My mother was from Hawai’i, and while she wasn’t a particularly good swimmer, (the Mom Swim: sunglasses on, face always above water lol) I was expected to swim.

After I could finally swim, she insisted I dive. I refused. I would jump over the swimming instructor’s arm, do anything to avoid being upside down. Undaunted, my mother hired the university diving coach. He took me by my feet, hung me upside down like a fish, and said on the count of three I would be dropped in. Splash! He did this several times, and again the next day, and after that–I could dive! I was 10 or 11. Thanks, Mom! Someday I’ll write about the rip tide which still leaves me with some anxiety, but that’s for later…

Reading this poem again, I recognize that I was fatigued, bored, frustrated, and exhausted by the marriage, but yes, I had the minnow, my small child, and so I stayed, as many do. I felt more dead than alive, but my child kept me going. I poured everything onto the page as there was nowhere else to leave it. You start to collapse into yourself. As a child I escaped by reading and writing. During the course of my marriage I read and write to escape amassing pages and degrees and doing whatever I could to avoid my physical reality.

All the while in Hong Kong, I could easily deconstruct how race and nation played out, but patriarchy was more difficult. I should say this was in specific to my own situation. When you are isolated emotionally you become inured to carelessness and cruelty and in the end, this is how and why you can become subject and vulnerable to abuse. In another cultural context too, one can become uncertain of the parameters and structures. Is this the story I know? Is this story playing out because I am in a different space? Where is the beginning and where is the ending? Existentialist type of questions.

I have a different kind of empathy now watching mothers with their small children if they are raising their children outside of their home culture. I can see all the anxiety, the concerns about doing what people are saying is best, but what, within your own culture doesn’t make sense.When you are not in your own milieu, your cultural values become uncertain and questioned. You must adapt–the question becomes what do you change, shift, and why?

I rewrote the ending of this piece many many times. But yes, I did grab that small hand and we ended up in Hawai’i–the ancestral home. Me and The Kid. Right across the street from where my family is buried.




Genus Mui Wo


Kick. Glide. An ageless alien floats.

Close eyes. Close eyes.

No tentacles, only gills, tales of tails.

To elude conscription

I snap skin from honey to olive,

declare citizenship,

nurse milk from stone,

scuttle over shallow water,

dodge mops. Hide. Seek.

Miscalculations of the moon stranded me.

Risks are for the hunt.

On and off the endangered species list,

experts argue: A bony beak.

Jelly lips. Feet trained to point.

I’m pedestrian,

a nylon-clad refugee,

swimming lap after lap.

Please, do not filet.

A diligent learner, I open jars, play puzzles.

Hostile conditions rendered me mute.

Survival, a testament to tenacity,

obedience, fear.

Plastic goggles squeeze eye sockets,

reveal loops ad infinitum.


I Almost Drown


We drive from the City. Two urban pale uncles hoist children on their shoulders, water skims chins. The sun flicks its light. Footholds missed! Kicks. Sputter. A strong arm. Saved by Cousin Ki-dong op-ah’s red and white inner tube. I am six. Shattered on the sandy river bank, twisted in bladderwrack, fish cheeks like pebbles, glassy eyes rimmed pink.

Years of failure, but Mother persists. This is not tennis! I butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, dive, hobble ashore with webbed feet. Beached, I weep for the sea.




My nocturnal mate provides shelter,

hunts with a weapon to his ear.

A stomach x-ray reveals a corroded past.

A beast-baring teeth, he attacks seaweed strands,

black painted lines.

I watch the show in silence.

Dolphin hooped: I applaud on demand.

I long to disappear,

but a tiny one swims by my side.

I stay.

Open a book. Tumble into words.

When the minnow pedals the prehistoric cycle,

I’ll shrink to a cloud bite in the blackest tea.

Before my organs drown and stop,

I dream the sea parts my heart,

walk the collapse of blueberry night,

and lick death’s sweet.

I note my eye’s lemon light,

marvel at my downy skin,

flex my talons.

Ready for flight!

I leap to private myths—

cloud wrap a phoenix belief

from shredded wings,

grab a small hand,

clutch my heart,

instinct pressing me home.

Belief and Philosophy Blog Divorce Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: The Forgetting

I have posted this poem The Forgetting elsewhere. It’s never been published by a journal. It is one of the most significant poems that I have written and I stand by it as a piece of writing. It came to me quickly.

I was at the Hong Kong ferry pier

and had a pencil and a wrinkled piece of paper in my bag. I stopped and wrote it down leaning against a steel column breathing in diesel. I was angry, bitter, upset. I don’t like to focus on how a type of creative energy works because I believe craft is important, but I admit here that the words came to me as if I was in a trance. Sometimes, you open your body up and the words tumble out. As I’ve written elsewhere, this is a strange feeling because for me, I write poetry when I have too many feelings and cannot express or name a particular emotion. It would be fair to say there’s always an idea of madness, blood, and a strange churning of the self when poems like this come to me. When you write in these moments you are not present. You come back when you edit. This poem is nearly in its original form. About three years ago, I was given some solid advice about editing and writing and the suggestion to cut the poem in half. I could not. Doing so would lose the frenzied pace of it, the instability.

Fairly obvious, but this reflected the miserable dynamic of my marriage and an attempt at escape.

New York and 57th street

The 57th street reference: a college boyfriend. Charlie committed suicide by jumping from his mother’s penthouse and died in his early 20s. I did not find out about this until years after he had jumped. I also used him, in some ways, as a model for a story from Swimming in Hong Kong that appeared in Cha Online Literary Journal Nantucket’s Laundry, 1985. This was the last story that was published from the collection. Charlie was terribly depressed, on the verge of alcoholism, completely and dangerously unstable. I learned later that he had his face completely reconstructed because he was beaten up so badly. In my memory he is young and handsome, but I also remember, due to depression, he had an eerily elderly quality to him. He had sent me a postcard from Taiwan–that was the last I had heard from him prior to learning of his death. I found the postcard, I believe around the time I wrote the poem, which is probably how this side story of the main story of my marriage made its way into the text…


The Forgetting


I descend, my body splits, and I roar to recover

quickly, urgently,

before wounds break, blood pours,

and I ravage pills of memory.


This body wove from man to man,

fucked and begged on hotel room floors,

bore a child and raged in a fire

as my feet burned across the continents.


I am called across the ocean to sands and palms,

pools that lap forests breathe hot nights on my neck.

Weepy drugs feed this cloying beast.

Wicked songs to memory and heart.

I drink your eye in a dark bar of money,

choking rage of forgetting and longing

cheating time like diamonds in a room of amputated arms.


In this land I join the cockroach dance,

survive the holocaust of malls

lured by spas and women on their knees.

There are ways of knowing—

an arm, a breast, an ankle acting the role of thief.

Fingers tap screens of pornographic screams,

but deadened nerves feel no skin.

I drink bitterness pressing buttons,

dropping clothes, closing doors.

An early death, a godless benediction of madness,

for this wild, I surrender all.

I forget to remember,

tongue acid rain,

lost in watery promises of the dark.

Six white hairs, a dozen soon.

Age and beauty,

orchestrated by gods gambling geography games.


Rising like a beast of present perfect:

A face smashed by thugs.

A body sprawled on 57th street.

Penthouse jumps are things of youth.

Suicides and lovers, friends ‘til we part,

the stuff of life lived to the bone.

I clock love and lines by years,

smells of wet nylon and stale beer,

taxi clangs of sorry lies.

A marriage scraped from the bottom of a glass,

gathered to divide, until air becomes

what I long to breathe,

joy a regret unknown.

Freedom calls. Sorrow creeps to sky.

The penury of age a certain misery.

Abandonment defies what we know as beauty,

yet to this green I leave my shell,

crawl before gods in forgiveness,

hell in my heart,

knowing the madness of it all.

Passing in the Middle Kingdom Reading & Writing

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: The Rape of Pink Lily

When I lived in Luk Tei Tong, one day I looked out onto the green bog and saw this perfect lily: a Red Oriental Lily.

It struck me as so strange. Someone had dumped a plant into this bog–the fallow rice fields, and it had grown. So there it was, defiant, glorious, no matter what had happened to it. It had refused to yield. People threw all kinds of stuff in the bog and there was sewage run-off and snakes and whatever else is dumped into a village green space. Drunken Brits falling into the bog. Plastic toys. Trash. Yet it remained a glorious green. The paths wound around it. In the summer, bugs and more bugs, mosquitos and lots of itchy things, so you spent a lot of time scratching (or at least I did!). Beauty is powerful.

I note I am writing in the past tense about this–but I no longer live there, so it exists in memory. Anyway, this lily was truly something. I don’t believe I ever took photo, so this poem would have to do. I lived in this village before the high rises began coming up–yes, prior to the arrival of Starbucks.

The village had old land laws that were put in place by the British colonial government to quell unrest and Communist leanings. They didn’t want the locals so figured out a way to dole out the land. Boys were allowed to inherit land. The village headman would divvy it up. The girls were not entitled to land–this was in place until quite recently–I think 2019? In order for houses to come up, multiple men would combine their small pieces of land and a developer (village headman) would put up a house to sell. Each house was a maximum of 2100 square feet, not including balconies or rooftops. People bought, sold, and rented 3 story block buildings: 1, 2, or 3 floors. For many, the only way you could access these properties was through the paths that cut through the bogs. Everyone was on a bicycle, some on foot, no cars allowed. I cannot say that the homes or the design of the village was particularly beautiful, what was truly compelling was the open green space, so rare in Hong Kong. I would get off the ferry and the chaos of the city in relief.

There was, of course, another type of chaos happening in my home. But this was an interior matter. But I do think that it colored my appraisal of whatever was beautiful–including the lily. There are always stories behind what appears to be an ideal.


The Rape of Pink Lily


Ravished by typhoon beatings,

shackled by oven coils,

Pink Lily arches over barbed wire,

fights insects that mount her limbs.

A hothouse lovely

dogs piss on her face.

She grasps mud for solace,

refuses to plead,

dreams of bees beyond tingling moss.

A loyal flower seasoned by silence

stricken by dollars,

she floats songs of ginger pathos.


The pornography of acquisition

sucks lucky money envelopes.

Suits snap in creased time,

the auction begins.

Men salivate. Towers rise.

Steal a kidney. Jail a poet.

Force foreheads to the ground.

Powdered beauties model rodent furs,

tongues drag along a spine,

capes crack the air.

Pink Lily guards fallow fields for sons.

She multiples.




Flower rapes: necessity.

Earth begs for memory’s dirt.

Rats await.

How many of her stalks will line our nests?

Belief and Philosophy Blog Divorce Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: An Ocean Ago

I haven’t read poetry in public over the past decade, so in March when I had the opportunity to do this with The Literary Cypher run by LP Kersey and Obsidian Pen Publishing, it was really fun! Poetry is community and the expectations around reading and writing poetry, at least for me, are much different than writing prose. I read some poetry from my manuscript Passing in the Middle Kingdom, which is, if you have been tuning in, what I am also blogging about–specifically ideas of creative process.

The point here is to show you or anyone who may benefit from writing poetry how a poem unfolds, and how and why writing poetry can help us answer and ask questions.

This poem An Ocean Ago was written and submitted to Great Ocean Quarterly in Australia. They ended up taking another one (I’ll blog about that later), but it gave me some confidence that they had liked it, although admittedly, this poem was dramatically rewritten over the course of a decade. I was living as a Korean American expatriate in Hong Kong who was four generations in on the Hawai’i side. Most Asian Americans pivot between two countries: the US and the country of their ethnic origin. When you throw that third country in, stuff gets a little different, also when you throw in another country due to a partner. So you start dealing with 3-4 countries and you start to see how reductive life can be if you insist only upon a dichotomy and polarization of two sides. We can’t and don’t live that way anymore. We all inhabit a global economy. All I can say is there is a nuclear accident in Japan and the stuff washes up off the Oregon coast, what does that mean? One planet everyone…yep…

When I first wrote it, I was really trying to understand what I was feeling about marriage, motherhood, and place. I had gotten it in my brain, as writers do, that if I write something a certain way, then I would will my life a certain way. This is both true and not. You cannot write you love someone if you do not love someone, and suddenly start to love someone. You can write to convince yourself you love someone, but this only goes so far. I was trying to write into this question. So the first draft was me desperately trying to write and through writing, rationalize my situation, no matter what. Later, I became more comfortable saying there was confusion and finally, no. Love gone. The poem turned. It worked out. Writing confirms what we know and allows us to search inside of ourselves.

This poem was also about memory, about a road trip to Arizona when we first met, about aging and what this means, about pregnancy and the movement between Hong Kong and the US, back and forth, on and off for years. There was always a rather frantic dynamic, this is a polite or euphemistic way of describing what can only be said to be harrowing. I know now such feelings are linked to living with and under trauma. I live very differently now. My body is recalibrating. For anyone who has lived in this way–I will tell you this: Just. Step. Away.

Also the thing about aging is that it is linked to death, of course. What it means to die. How we die. Why we die. Fear of dying. We all die. You will not be saved from the truth that we will all perish. Every person you see, every tree or sign of life that you witness or experience will perish too, just as you do. You can do whatever you want to try to stop this: pray, exercise fanatically, get plastic surgery, have a child, find a new partner, move to a new home or city, get a new job, but guess what. The Big D is coming for you. And the flag the Big D is waving says this: Take No Prisoners.

That’s right. The END is real. SO…what does Dr. Stephanie Han say about this?

Be real. Be kind. Be fair. Here’s the poem below–


An Ocean Ago


A shower runs down my husband’s back.

Torks, twists, a broken spine.

He hoists our child on to his shoulders.

A shift in his gait. Silver hair thinning.

An ocean ago.

We floated in a blue pool

he held me up to a red rock sun.

Will you love me

when I can no longer lift you to the sky?

So late, so fast,

an ocean ago,

a splash, a belly, a pink bikini.

Liquid pooled between my legs,

the current pulled.

Our baby fought the crossing.

His arrival, our return.

An ocean ago,

money crushed the fetal grip,

trash floated, we swam the harbor

of age and loss, panicked

through tubes and wires.

Tread water, refuse to drown.

We searched for an elixir,

discovered gray vapor death.

Will you love me?

Let me lie, I said,

I do.





Belief and Philosophy Blog Divorce Educators Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: Building the Great Wall

To continue this creative process explication of poetry and writing, I’ll be going through the poems I wrote and discussing the background a bit. This is really to show anyone interested in poetry how some poems are constructed. I’m not big on “oh it’s this magical thing…I wait and boom from the heavens, I feel words rushing through me”. If that’s you, more power to you, and that’s great. I get it. But I’m a teacher and believe that words can remake people’s lives. So I am going to break down the process a little so that anyone can try writing and not be intimidated by the creative process.

A version of this poem “Building the Great Wall” appeared in Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. The garden and the wall in Mui Wo had become a metaphor for the complexities of a collapsing marriage and living as an expatriate in Hong Kong. As the title of my poetry collection indicates, it was often assumed when I was living there that I was Chinese (I must have a pan Asian bog standard face, what can I say?), but while Asian life was while somewhat familiar given my own ethnicity, Hong Kong was also a challenge given my feelings about patriarchy, nation, and the pressure of capitalism.

Disney here in the poem refers to the building of Hong Kong Disneyland which I once researched while working on a story. The construction of that project further killed off the lone pod of sousa chinensis, the dolphin that has the distinction of symbolizing Hong Kong. Since it appears that all effort has been made to kill it off given pollution and prioritization of construction it makes no sense. Then again, the bald eagle was the US symbol and hey, that almost went extinct too. It appears killing off important wildlife may be a habit of nation-building. Perhaps it makes sense given the people of Hong Kong are valiantly struggling to speak their minds and be free as those in Beijing are silencing them. There are always parallels in the natural world of whatever is going on or vice-versa.

The center not holding–that’s the William Butler Yeats reference to The Second Coming.

Pictograms–this refers to the writing of characters. There is no Chinese alphabet. I’m not sure how this might link to widespread literacy and thus the construction of a modern nation and a free press, but given you must spend an inordinate amount of time memorizing how to read and write, there is something to be suggested about what this may mean for the vast majority of those who are illiterate. There is pinyin, but who knows. This is for the people there to decide. I’m a pro-alphabet kind of gal. Alphabets warm my literate heart and Korean, I’ll be blunt, has an awesome easy alphabet that anyone can memorize really quickly. There’s none of that silent E nonsense in a Korean alphabet. I’m for ease with reading. This is not possible with Chinese.

Tiger cubs. During the time I was there was this huge uproar about the Tiger parent mentality which I think in retrospect, is nothing short of shallow and limited. I’m for knowledge acquisition and curiosity, but there is a direct link here to saving face and I’m not a big fan of that. I can understand how we all get roped into this as parents. But I admit my parenting really shifted, and far more so after the divorce. This Tiger stuff seems really silly and limited to me now. We all die. And so what. And then what. Blue ribbons do not stop you or your family members from death!

Oh, the opening about digging a hole to China. Back in the ancient days of oh, the 1970s, people would make jokes, like oh, you are digging a hole to China! Gosh darn that is hilarious…hahaha. Golly, that hole is so deep! The phrase worked for the poem, I thought. I like there to be a light heartedness at times.

Regarding ashes and falling down, I thought about the nursery rhyme ring around a rosy which has to do with the Black Plague and has nothing to do with gardening, but somehow the garden did become connected to death or an end. Because in the end you might have an edifice or a symbol, like a garden, but it means absolutely nothing if there is nothing inside of the edifice. These material symbols are simply that–very temporary. Don’t want to get all Ozymandias on you, but monuments, buildings, stuff that is material is temporal. I repeat: WE. ALL. DIE.

The building of the wall involved borrowing money and then trying to get someone in the village who would build it given the village headman’s control over the building works. Like many places in the world, there are a few people with a monopoly who then control the market and make it very difficult for construction to proceed. I made friends with the parent of my child’s friend who was then married to a man who was unafraid of building the wall without the consent of this village headman. This village headman was really a pain and not a nice person. I don’t believe that anyone really likes him. He’s still the headman. How can you recognize him? He wears big glasses and adapted a Bruce Lee haircut for awhile. He also biked around with an umbrella in the sun, rather Victorian, and given he was super tan it looked a little weird, what can I say? The main thing is that most people didn’t like him. So I got introduced to my kid’s friend’s dad Big Black Boss. BBB worked with another man Uncle Pork Chop. Uncle Pork Chop and Big Black Boss got the job done. When a few kids laughed at the name Uncle Pork Chop my kid got really pissed off. Uncle Pork Chop also got skinny during the time we knew him so the name didn’t fit after awhile. To conclude, the wall got built.Yet while the wall was raised, nearly everything regarding the interior of what was inside the wall and house was falling, crumbling or collapsing.

And what was it that was being attempted by trying to erect a wall? Staking a claim to permanence? Protection? Money? A nice house and a garden mean nothing if there is nothing to hold the center. The garden became a fanatical obsession for my ex who would spend the entire weekend sifting through the sand cleaning it out for any particles of glass or garbage. It was supposed to be because the garden was an investment–like the house. Everything got boiled down to money. It was more than an action to save money, it was really an arena to exert control.

When my child was small he would attempt to go out into the heat and dig for awhile, imitating his father. Later, he would watch from inside the glass window. It was painfully isolating and the remembrance of this is very stark. The Kid and I would sit inside most of the day, the two of us, in what was a kind of forced togetherness because in reality, we were trapped in the house while the ex worked on the garden with absolutely no interest in what we were doing inside at all. My son was told his father wanted to spend time with him, but truthfully, he spent most of the weekend watching his father from the glass window. When you are a young child you do not want to garden. You want to pretend you are a superhero and maybe do about 10 minutes of gardening, but definitely not with an adult who yells if you are messing anything up.

Myself, I was bored out of my skull and had zilch interest in gardening in the heat with carpal tunnel. At one point I tried to discuss Voltaire’s idea of the garden and how myself and the child were actually the garden that needed tending, hoping that the text reference would kick in some kind of critical analysis about the situation, but to no avail. The end result was a beautiful garden, completed a few months before a terrible divorce.

Interestingly enough, now in Hawai’i I have been doing a bit of gardening. I do this because it is fun to see the plants grow. It’s not humid. It’s not about an investment. I don’t keep anyone hostage in my house and expect them to look at me while I garden lol. My carpal tunnel is better. So yes, the self was cast aside to build the wall in the past, but now, I realize, there are no walls.

Did you know that you get to call yourself a Great Man if you visit The Great Wall? It should be updated–Great Woman. And add to that if you manage to survive the building of any wall, you deserve the title.


Building The Great Wall


Selves were cast aside to build

The Great Wall.

Boulder after boulder, year after year.

Digging a hole to China killed us.

Nuance foiled. Poetry lost.

Foul water gallon gulped.


Unearthed: a pig’s head, a bicycle,

the rubble of new lives.

Dollars grabbed on bruised knees.

Foreign bodies.

Poison shot through our veins.

We screamed. Our child wept.

The doctor said, it was no emergency,

we had air conditioning.


Great Walls rise on sorrow’s wrinkles,

tiger cub egos, pictogram drama.


An emperor’s whim.

Climb to be a Great Man?

For what does a Woman ascend?

Astronauts spoke, myths remain:

The Great Wall snakes before the moon.


A Middle Kingdom center never holds.

Great walls are sandy tombs.

Extinction a Disney sea

of pink dolphins, a lost phoenix

with shellacked wings.

Sailors fear the pancake edge.

Barbarians lurk behind the wall.


Yet Great Wall desires scale link by link.

Sewage lines yield smoggy fevers,

frangipani strokes our cheeks,

connects pipes to dreams,

and the corpse rot of papayas.

We watch passionfruit ripen

as purple stabs our hearts.

A trick, a brick, a boulder, a trap.

We crumble, tumble to our ashen end.

Buried in greatness, we all fall down.