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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Honored Guest

Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé



Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé has edited more than ten books and co-produced three audio books.  These span the genres of ethnography, journalism, poetry, and creative nonfiction, several edited pro bono for non-profit organizations.  Trained in publishing at Stanford, with a theology masters (world religions) from Harvard and fine arts masters (creative writing) from Notre Dame, he is the recipient of the PEN American Center Shorts Prize, Swale Life Poetry Prize, Cyclamens & Swords Poetry Prize, and Stepping Stones Nigeria Poetry Prize, among other awards.  Desmond is an interdisciplinary artist, also working in clay.  His commemorative pieces are housed in museums and private collections in India, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.

 

 

 

féte champétre :: rustic festival


 

There is garbage outside the gas station.   A single mound of used furniture.   A love seat, mildewed with blotchy stains.   A foldable table, its missing leg ten yards away.   The attendant’s wife is walking around with a gigantic tarpaulin bag, half-filled with things.  Her daughter is seated on the pavement, reading The Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend.   A jukebox even, its glass smashed in, and round plates in neat piles.   The attendant is looking over this mess, his cigarette dangling from two fingers at the side of his hip.   As if he’s contemplating setting it all on fire, and watching the ambers glow in the night.   Tonight’s sky will be cast in an orange hue, or so the weatherman said.   The colors will walk into each other, no more different than one thought writing itself into the next, one abandoned to issue an awakening.   The scroll is crisply burning, as is the painting of Xiamen and its port of 14th century merchants.

 

 

 

 

in aeternum :: into eternity

 

 

An awkward plant that tilts out from under the grass.   It looks like the pedestrian on the embankment, keeping unnaturally still.  As if frozen in time, in mid-thought, like Laotzu dreaming of Zhongdian.   “I saw Shangri-La once,” the woman beside him says matter-of-factly.   “I lived in a Tibetan house.   I ate at their table, slept in all day because of the cold.”   This could be Shuodu Hai or Haba Village, no one can be sure.   There are no landmarks.   Only vast tracts of land, and a range of mountains only the locals tell apart, and name, intimately as if calling out to a friend.   The tree behind the guesthouse has drooped its branches to nearly touch the ground, the ground dry and cracked all the way to the pond of ice.   At the edge of the cliff, another tree, an old willow, grows out into the mist. 

 

 

 

 

coup d’oeil :: quick glance

 

Bodies down.   There is love in rarity, in being scarce about reifying.   This folding, this folding panels the whole bones of us.   We are broken, again and again, and we are not.   There is a treatise on Lippo di Benivieni’s “Lamentation over the Dead Christ.”   In obverse.   Tempera and gold leaf on wood.   Its frame was added on.   Today is suddenly a day in 1320, yet it feels like any other day.  I didn’t know sweat turned green like lime that sours only to clean.   There are two men with four iron

spikes, and women.   They kiss holes; they kiss holes.   There, on the left, the missing centurion who looks at the sun go down.   And the spear that’s rolled off his grip.  How can death be tempered with such good and such bad, the way gold demands the light and dark in all of us?   We are all men and women, as removed, as quiet, like yesterday’s early moon.   The four angels nosedive, parrots to hawk their claim.   We can be contingent as harpies.   Green faces need lifting, like wars and camouflage paint on more faces.   So does death, so we are allowed the mourning and more marble greens. 




Zheng Ballad at Sera Monastery

 

I. Quatrains to the Jingdezhen Scholar

 

Around your neck a navy blue collar. 

I want you with all my heart.

Even if I get to see you, I won’t be free from this.

Why won’t you write back?

 

Around your waist a navy blue belt.

I think of you all the time; I want you.

Even if I get to see you, I won’t be free from this.

Why won’t you come to me?

 

I’m trying to walk this off.

In this city, its parts of little use to me.

How much longer will I not get to see you?

One day seems like three months.

 

 

II. Sestets to the Baota Pagoda Scholar

 

All I remember is your blue collar.  And your blue belt.

I think of you all the time.  I want you. 

I want you with all my heart and mind. 

Even if I get to see you, I won’t be free from this…

Why won’t you write back?

Why won’t you come to me?

 

Even if I get to see you, I won’t be free from this…

I’m trying to walk this off.  And the city seems lost like me

How much longer before I get to see you?

Even if I get to see you, I won’t be free from this…

These days, each day seems to draw itself into months.

Even if I get to see you, I won’t be free from this…


 

III. Epistolary to the Wuyou Shan Scholar

 

All I remember is your bluecollar.   And your blue belt.  I think of you all the time.   I want you.  I want you with all my heart and mind.   Even if I get to see you, I won’t be free from this …  Why won’t you write back?   Why won’t you come to me?   I’m trying to walk this off, and the city seems lost like me.   How much longer before I get to see you?   These days, each day seems to draw itself into months…

 

* This is a translation of a Zheng song from The Book of Poetry compiled by Confucius circa 6th centuryBC.