Broken Chinese

“I’ve spent a lifetime
trying to learn the language of the dead.”
– Jim Harrison


The daily astonishments still
of monkeys in the trees
and traffic that doesn’t move for hours
and the sky all wrong
and how I’m finally able to read some writing in the wild
most crucially “toilet”
or that actual, physical survival
can be reduced to knowing how to say
“double shot of whisky” and “Kung Pao Chicken”
because you can live on only that if you have to
and if the chicken is red and undercooked again
just skip it, and you pray the slugs of whisky
will sterilize the rest.

I always bring my parents with me
as I move through my days in China
laughing with them at the absurdity
of my big American frame pouring sweat on a hearted run
past the toy soldiers of the Red Guard and I’m pretty sure
they are all so skinny I could break them in two with my bare hands
someone please feed them
or at least make them do push-ups
or imagining that I’m fitting right in, yessir,
putting my bike into the river of thousands of riders
like launching a skiff and pushing off
then pulled along in the currents of bikes and cars and people
that course from one side of the city to the other.

And how over the phone I can’t tell my wife who is so far away
that I’m slowly going blind
and I’m sorry for her that she will have to get that news
reading it here
but back to my parents
how we’re just amazed together
every day about it all
as we look up at the sky-scratchers
and it is “Damn! Get a load of that will ya?”
because we’re still from the ranch in Colorado
we don’t know how to be from anywhere else
and it’s still their Great Depression somehow
and it’s still the Dust Bowl with the sky darkening
and my mother saying about the terror of it
thought it was the Apocalypse and brought her to Jesus
and the sky here so full of grit and smoke
the far end of the block
is not visible for a week the air tastes like jet fuel
it is the Apocalypse sure as shooting
and how the hell did we get




Day 15, 28 Days of Unreason

12 thoughts on “Broken Chinese

  1. Now that I’ve had a little time to digest this, here are just a few things I see. Our world view is based upon who we are, the connection to our own roots. We see strange things in other places because of the piece of home that inhabits us. But then again, as we kick off into the flow of the unknown, as we learn how to survive, we find a sort of macular degeneration of the soul. Our world view gets grainy.
    This is just a big picture (pardon the pun) analysis of this remarkable poem. I think WP may have a word count limit. This is it – that voice – the one that bankrolls Mr. Grumpy Pants so that he can go out and play.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. None of this planned in the least, but after reading your comment I noted how that even though we think we are far from our parents lives or our own childhoods, we get to the same place in the end — the apocalypse (and whatever extended metaphor you want to make out of that). Everything else sort of falls away then, the distinct differences no longer important. I didn’t think explicitly about the losing eyesight and going blind in the Dust Bowl and the pollution, but must have done that unconsciously, trying to bring the poem to that one place, that one shared moment. where the past and the present merge. I don’t get any credit for thinking any of that through, just trying to make out the letters on the eye chart same as you.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. (Always take full credit!)
        The part about going blind is set aside in the middle of the poem and it is a little off-hand remark of great import. Like “blah, blah, blah, and btw, I’ve 2 months to live…” and the reader goes, “Wait! What?!” That is why I focused in on it. I saw it as having several possible interpretations.


          1. AAHH! Look at the poem. How many things in it are visual? See monkeys, the sky, the pink chicken, red guard, the scratchers, the river of bikes, the dust bowl, the pollution… I’m doing this from memory on my phone, so I’ve missed some. Your instincts were right. Your Crazy Child knows. Pour it a double of the good stuff.


  2. This writing transported me into a world where Bukowski lives! You moved between scenes seamlessly… whilst introducing new thoughts to consider. I like how you say you don’t know how to be from anywhere else…. remaining true to self. I know I’ve only just scratched the surface…..and have enjoyed what I’ve digested thus far.😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was really a remarkable poem. I felt like I was there–both in China and kind of in your head (though that sounds totally icky and creepy when I write it, so I hope you know what I mean–the poet’s voice and all that. . .). Definitely a poem to ponder–the connections to our pasts, the stranger in a strange land–more, but I’ll have to think about it. 🙂


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