Results of the 2017 Blodwyn Memorial Prize have been released! I am not a winner. I am mentioned, though, honorably, for my poem Standing in the Courtyard of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein. The poem was written mid 2011 while I was teaching in Tianjin, China. While I eventually taught for a private institution, I began in the public schools. Tanggu Yi Zhong, mentioned in the title of the poem, was a high school around the corner from my apartment, and the poem focuses on that location and the surrounding area. Also in the title, two figures are mentioned. Einstein, of course, needs no introduction, while Lu Xun is likely almost completely unknown to Western readers. Excerpted from a brief biography of Lu Xun on Columbia University’s Asia for Educators website,

Lu Xun (or Lu Hsun, pronounced “Lu Shun”; 1881-1936) has been considered China’s greatest modern writer for most of the 20th century. Many of the other authors of fictional works of social criticism popular during the 1920s and 1930s have been at least partially discredited or criticized during the various political movements in China since 1949, but Lu Xun’s reputation has remained consistently distinguished. Mao Zedong (1893-1976) called him “commander of China’s cultural revolution.”

Perhaps it was because Lu Xun died relatively early in the Communist movement that he has not been criticized for making the kinds of political “errors” for which his colleagues have suffered. But the sophisticated complexity of his writing style, which lends itself to various interpretations, is also an important factor in his achievement of a position of preeminence.

I encourage you to read some of Lu Xun’s work. Here is a link to his famous story Diary of a Madman.

And here is my poem:

 

Standing in the courtyard of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein

I

There is Einstein.

A bending of the neck allows me to look up into the eyes of a statue of Einstein. Asking, Who is Einstein? whose answer would be Albert? And who would believe it sufficient to posit the equation E=mc2? Or just to say he was Jewish? German? Genius?

Does the scanning of a biography result in acquaintance? Does a lackadaisical spin of a globe make one worldly? Is a statue flesh? But is it presence? It is living                   memory where it is more than mineral and chisel. Just a rock: outside the conversation with the persistence of impression, could this sketch be said to be indebted to it:

  1. Though he is technically dead, the water, which nourishes the earth, is not alive.
  2. That there was ample room for God is evidence that science, far from trump (closer to trumpet,) is a brilliant facet of the imagination:
  3. Systems and equations depending on laughter and the playful rolling of the colour wheel, behind speculation, with a stick.
  4. A perceived thing will not be still—and so the field of physics is swept by the wind that carries the inaudible distortions of prayers—and a statue converses with a man.

 

II

Lu Xun stands opposite Einstein. Pursuing medicine, Lu Xun was horrified while watching a beheading caught on a red reel, and turned to the medicinal word. The Diary of a Madman revisits fragmentary entries written in a delirium in which the writer is convinced that all the villagers down to his very own brother are cannibals. We follow the progression of his growing delusion that villagers and family alike are conspiring to eat him. Did they, or did they not? What is it to be eaten?

 

III

A sociological vertigo deterritorializes the subject… causing rapidly increasing panic, cold sweats, nausea, and in some cases the urge to violently retaliate against the “over-curious.” Due to racial isolation in much of the expansive country, foreigners do in fact meet with a population both xenophobic and xenophile in turn. Extended exposure to the unyielding scrutiny of the general population can result in the development of depression, alcoholism, paranoia, and chronic isolation to name but a few possible symptoms.

 

IV

Forty actions/spectacles executed by a Caucasian living in Tanggu. The audience consists of the public who chance to be in close proximity to the events. Unlike traditional audiences the spectators come and go as they please. This is akin to a happening, the major difference being it was never intended as performance.

  1. breathing
  2. buying water
  3. walking
  4. smoking cigarette
  5. turning head right
  6. turning head left
  7. crossing street
  8. stumbling on uneven pavement
  9. scratching arm
  10. wiping sweat from forehead
  11. talking on phone
  12. sneezing
  13. sitting on bench
  14. drinking water
  15. humming
  16. biting thumbnail
  17. watching being watched
  18. reading book
  19. adjusting hat
  20. coughing
  21. throwing empty bottle in trash
  22. looking at watch
  23. picking wax from ear
  24. patting stray dog
  25. talking to stray dog
  26. yawning
  27. blinking
  28. dropping piece of paper
  29. bending down/ picking up piece of paper
  30. entering restaurant
  31. looking at menu
  32. pointing at menu
  33. waiting
  34. saying xie xie
  35. picking up chopsticks
  36. eating
  37. drinking
  38. watching TV
  39. paying
  40. leaving restaurant

 

V

Locked within the gates of Tanggu Yi Zhong: Lu Xun and Einstein, teachers and students, janitors and groundskeepers, guards. Locked out: any semblance of stranger, outsider, alien. Family needs be familiar, trusted, part.

But, it is family, as the closest communities will attest.

***

It is something very intimate, from a distance,

to grow a family in a year,

living in classrooms negotiating the amorphous

state of education. First attempt:

connection. Severed, standing behind a computer

partition as if afraid of being seen

naked against a landscape of blackboard –

forget a language, the foundational

smile might just manage a binary

transfer, reduced to information.

Beyond the idea of teacher and student,

human and human, invariably put together

with air, tissue and imagination

could never survive term or season

without the addition of friend, compassion,

and the million millisecond attributes

which, lasting, defy job description, salary and curriculum,

for a circuitous notion of we.

 

VI

 There is Einstein.

Happy there is, once and a while, light on this earth. One only ever hears of brilliance. Rolling the toxins of public transportation and congestion in my mouth, the students of Tanggu Yi Zhong in their ticking leisure volley birdies in a numberless badminton making use of no nets. Others run to run and others chase to chase, some laugh to laugh, and all breathe to breathe. Some dance to win, some cry to gain, some just walk it off – and passing me where I stand next to Einstein (flashes of blinding Nagasaki, Hiroshima) or tearing past, they call out Hello!

These are my children?

It dawns on me, belatedly: the sun is up, an aspirational direction, and the idea of family doesn’t want blood (anymore).

 

VII

Look:

Untitled

 

 

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