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.

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