30 Days of Poetry

Some of you following this blog may have been wondering about my brief hiatus. Well, those who have followed me longer know that sometimes I just kind of disappear like this, but this time, it’s not because of faulty internet connections, or from being extremely productive (if it ever is).

This time, it’s because I’m participating in a 30-day poetry challenge!

As I’ve mentioned before, we in Hangzhou have started our own poetry society, (check out our website here) and over the past year, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. From more active members, to a greater desire to write poetry, we’ve been able to build a creative community to enjoy.

For summer fun (and to beef up content cough cough) one of our newest members suggested we do a 30-day challenge.

Well, we’re about halfway through already, and I can tell you that it’s harder than I thought. In the beginning, ideas were exploding all over the place and it would take me about 10 minutes to write a draft of something. Cut to several weeks later, and I’m staring at my notebook, wondering if I could get away with writing another nonsensical haiku to meet the deadline. True, we have no way of making sure that people aren’t just recycling already-written work, but there’s no point of doing the challenge if you’re just going to cheat.

So anyway, this has been occupying my brainspace for a while (along with reading articles/books for my thesis, translating a knock-off Transformers script for work, and watching an ungodly amount of Game of Thrones). I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote about one of the magical forces that’s keeping me going: coffee.

“Coffee”

Sweet poison of mine
who breathes life with every kiss
and death once away

strangle my insides
set fire to my mind and fly
phoenix-winged as dawn —

strike fast the heavens
curl up like the smoke-tails
that rise from my tongue,

my “Hallelujah”
your inferno and rebirth —
my teeth, but your bite.

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Look Up

All across the United States, people looked through comically-shaped paper glasses to the skies, where the heavens were on display. My Facebook feed exploded with friends who had traveled all the way to Portland, Oregon to join the eclipse-watching party, as well as those who stayed closer to home and saw what they could. (And also pictures of overcast skies and comments like “So glad I could see the eclipse.”)

Here in Hangzhou, the skies have been a brilliant blue, with fluffy white clouds rarely seen this side of the Pearl Delta. Rainstorms have come and go, and in the evenings after the sun finally goes down (along with the temperature), the streets take on an orange-ish glow from the street lamps. There’s not much sky to be seen from the ground view, and much of the heavens get overtaken by the lights and buildings surrounding me like cornrows. Now that it’s extra hot outside, I stay in more.

Yet, I never fail to look up anyway.

Most of the time, I can only see a handful of stars, if even that. Sometimes I see silvered clouds and the moon dancing along them like a gypsy. On the rare occasion I see a full constellation, I usually message a friend and tell them to look outside before it goes away.

To some, this probably sounds sad. That’s just the way it is in urban China, and it makes us city-dwellers appreciate the skies all the more, and all-out rejoice when there are blue skies. And whenever I go back to the US, I’m always floored by the brilliant skies and colors that abound.

So now in the hazy summer days of Hangzhou, I instead look up from the reading nook in my bedroom. From this vantage point, I’m looking up through the Tibetan prayer flags I’ve put in the window, and into the sky beyond. Some nights, I see nothing but the faint press of stars behind haze. Others, a silent lightning storm stuck in the clouds, its white cracks splitting the sky in half.

Most of the time, I see a moment that hasn’t gotten devoured by other lights and other deadlines, and that in itself is worth looking up into.

Breathless in Hangzhou

Unlike in Tibet, you notice it almost right away: the thick squeeze of air all around you, the sauna-like soup of atmosphere condensing into your lungs. You exert yourself but a little bit, and you’re drenched in sweat, panting from the exertion. But this time, it’s not because of high altitude, it’s because of heat.

I’ve already been back in Hangzhou for over a week, and though it’s a wildly different place from Lhasa, I find myself still breathless. The quickened pace along the streets to get groceries and settle back into researching my thesis, the sense of sluggishness when I actually try to accomplish these things. Heat makes me turn into molasses.

Lhasa already feels as far away as the sun. My coffee packets that expanded to their breaking points due to altitude in Tibet have now shrunk back to normal size. My heart beats, sated, at a slower pace.

And yet, I breathe short breaths on opposite sides of China. It’s as though my lungs still remember Tibet, and that the thick heat of Hangzhou functions as a foil for my time on the road.

And late at night, as I lay in bed before my giant fan, I now watch prayer flags flutter in my window, neatly silhouetted by street lights outside. Yes, Lhasa is far away now, but in my room, I’m surrounded by it on all sides, and as I’m breathless once more, it feels closer than ever.