( East Lansing, Michigan )
poem and audio link
Father Speaks of Poetry
Telling me how one of mine doesn’t get
really good until the last four lines, when
the poem makes you think of bigger things.
Since retirement, he’s been reading poetry
of the T’ang dynasty and writing his own,
so, he says, he sees more now. I see him as a boy
bent over these same T’ang poems which talk
of love, honor, epic battles, the snow-white
of a plum blossom, the jade-green
of a baby bamboo stalk. Vision shifts —
he’s starved, war-weary, watchful
of the Red Guard’s gun threatening his brother,
who threatens back as they commandeer
their way onboard a boat, set to flee.
No dreaming of plum blossoms...
The poem, he states proudly, is like a picture.
I agree, the last line of my poem evokes the first.
Ah yes, he says, good writing is like life,
one big circle. The end always comes back
to the beginning, reminds you of bigger things.
Johnson Cheu's Comments...
My father's turn to writing poetry is, in ways, bittersweet, it seems to me. For my father's generation and before, men were expected to be breadwinners and the main providers for their families. They were expected to choose vocations that made money, instead of careers that may have seemed frivolous or indulgent, hence why he's doing this now, post-retirement from his career as an engineer. That's why his words, thinking about life and the choices one makes, both the everyday ones like what one does for pleasure, and the bigger life-defining ones, and the image he uses of a big circle struck me as somehow poetic. I wanted to write something that captured the sweetness of a moment between father and son, but also made one think, as I did, about, as my father says, "the bigger things."
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