What Is Magic? Raul Asked
The bird sings because it has a song in its throat
We move because we have a dance in our spirits
The wind blows to play with the rivers and valleys
The raindrops fall as messengers upon the earth
The fish swim because it has an ocean in its belly
The children run because they have the world under their feet
This is the secret of magic
Hidden in our minds
The people and their small things
If all taken, what would we miss?
The rustle of oak trees at dusk
The foaming river from the window
The smell of the children running home
Cheeks red from the snow
The little thing you say that’s not funny
But I laugh anyway just because…
The birds can’t be imitated
The flowers can’t be colored
The sea can’t be dammed
The mountains can’t be spoken
This is the sound of magic
Running in our veins
Moving the sky and earth
Passing through us like rivers
All the noise on earth will die
But not this silence of faith
This innocence persisting to believe
To see more than what can be seen
Our River Temple
At sunrise, I row. This morning the river is choppy. Behind me in the bow seat, Master K is silent. I feel his patience, my own frustrations. My body is slow, slowing down to the change of the season, a dam of dampness and heat building to shore against the oncoming of a cold front.
I’ll give myself needles tonight, I tell myself, to dredge the damp and alleviate the stagnation along the liver and gallbladder meridians.
Master K has a grand piano in his grand living room that makes its own music when a key is played. He bought it after his wife left with their two children. When snow falls on the Mississippi, he goes to Thailand, meeting the local women, fighting with the local men. When the river thaws, he comes home to row and carves. Master K is also a master carpenter. He eats vegetables only and raw, for thirty years.
The river heaves. Our boat cuts the waves…
Along the riverbank, jeweled weeds stand next to stinging nettles and poison ivy, an antidote for the burnt skin. Their translucent stems look like human bones and joints. Plants resembling human organs will heal those organs, I learned from my herb master, like strawberries for the heart inflammations, pears for cooling the lungs, and avocados to warm and moist the uterus. Will the jeweled weeds ease the pain in joints, and connect a torn tendon or ligament?
Master K sprinkles a seed into my palm. It’s tiny, a period at the end of a sentence.
“Touch it, gently, with your fingertip,” he says.
It explodes in the center of my palm and flies off.
“The seed contains so much energy. Just a touch, and it takes off.”
We come out of the water drenched with the river.
“How did I do this morning, Master?
“You didn’t do worse,” says Master K, smiling.
Later I learn from my friend that in Philippine, it’s called Makahiya, the shy one, the reticent one; their nerve endings open to the slightest suggestion.
In my herb class, I learn that the seed is called touch-me-not. It soothes inflamed hearts and heals scattered spirits.
The geese are painting the sky with a V, my lord
The Mississippi laughs with its white teeth
How fast winter flees from the lowland, my lord
And how’s the highland where songs forever seethe?
At the confluence, I sing of the prairie, my lord
My joy and sorrow soar with rolling spring
Its thunder half bird, half mermaid, my lord
No poppies on hills, only ghost warriors’ calling
Today is chunfeng—we say shared spring, you equinox
Two spirits, one on phoenix wings, one on lion’s seat
Across the sea, kindred spirits, my lord
Prayer through breaths, laughing children on the street
Let’s open our gift, acorn of small things
Let river move us without wants or needs
No one claims rivers at the end of game
Swans trumpet from Head of the Mississippi
Along the trails—snow, dogs, woodpeckers–same
Difference as children slide with whoopee
Laugh, and rivers rumble like summer nights
On sandstone bluffs, lovers watch crew boats dart
Like insects. Walking on water is not a sleight
Of hands but an instinct, echoes of distant stars
And sturgeons charging without food or sleep
Keep going, says the master, one stroke at a time
Breathe between waves…his voice steep
from tumors, yet he stands, furious and sublime
What arrow points us to grace, here and now?
A swan’s touch, neck bending into a bow
For Chen Guangcheng, the Blind Lawyer from China
This is my eye—blindly—in the river wild and fast
Through the steely gaze, towards a promised freedom
Rumors storm, back and forth, between ocean currents
Machines clank to grind a small man’s plea for freedom
Not for asylum or paradise, not for money or fame
All I want is a room in this giant country, a freedom
To take children to school, to guide my sisters out
Of the maze, free to be mothers again, free
To raise the young, grow old in peace, a place where
Hunger, prison or death can’t blackmail freedom
Where the poor, the blind, the small and defeated
Can live in dignity and joy. Freedom is never free
Must pave with eyes, ears, hands…brick by brick
With a heart willing to bleed till it breaks free
Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and came to USA in 1986. She is the founder and director of the Kinship of Rivers project, a five-year project that builds a sense of kinship among the people who live along the Mississippi and Yangtze Rivers through exchanging gifts of art, poetry, stories, music, dance and food. She paddles along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, giving poetry and art workshops along the river communities, making thousands of flags as gifts and peace ambassadors between the Mississippi and the Yangtze Rivers.
Her publications include Flying: Life of Miracles along the Yangtze and Mississippi, memoir (forthcoming from Calumet Press), Ten Thousand Waves, poetry book from Wings Press, 2014, American Visa (short stories, 1994), Foreign Devil (novel, 1996), Of Flesh and Spirit (poetry, 1998), The Magic Whip (poetry, 2003), The Last Communist Virgin (stories, 2007), all from Coffee House, New Generation: Poetry from China Today, 1999 from Hanging Loose Press, Flash Cards: Poems by Yu Jian, co-translation with Ron Padgett, 2010 from Zephyr Press. Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China (2000, University of Minnesota Press, 2002 paperback by Random House) won the Eugene Kayden Award for the Best Book in Humanities. The Last Communist Virgin won 2008 Minnesota Book Award and Asian American Studies Award.
She had many multi-media solo exhibitions: “We Are Water: Kinship of Rivers” a one-month exhibition that brought 100 artists from the Yangtze and Mississippi Rivers to celebrate water (Soap Factory, 2014), “Behind the Gate: After the Flooding of the Three Gorges” at Janet Fine Art Gallery(2007), “All Roads to Lhasa” at Banfill-Lock Cultural Center(2008), “Kinship of Rivers” at the Soap Factory(2011, 12), Great River Museum in Illinois(2012), Fireworks Press at St. Louis(2012), Great River Road Center at Prescott (2012), Wisconsin, Emily Carr University in Vancouver (2013), University of California Santa Barbara(2013), and many other places.
She collaborated with the British filmmaker Isaac Julien on Ten Thousand Waves, a film installation about the illegal Chinese immigration in London, the composer and musician Bruce Bolon, Alex Wand (Grammy award winner), Gao Hong, etc..
She is the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York State Council of the Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, the Bush Artist Fellowship, Lannan Foundation Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, and the McKnight Artist Fellowship. She received her Distinct Immigrant Award 2014.
Ah, Ping, do please just keep on being amazing!