Starving Polar Bear

Starving Polar Bear
Where phantom bears hunt vanished ice. Image by Andreas Weith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Diminutive of Grace

Tianjin, Beijing, and Hubei Provence, China 
December 6, 2012; October 1, 2014
For Xiang Wén Yàn (Gracie) and her father, Xiang Heng-Zhu – Grace and Peace

It can come anywhere,
which is why I travel,
why I make myself
stranger, bumbling

about the far ends,
seeking the epicenter
where subterranean  
grace probes thin places

and could even emerge
from the traffic of Tianjin
which, of course, it does
though we could not

know her just yet, caught
in the converging weave
of bikes and buses, trucks
and cars, each urgent

to shoot through now
to the next knot, and the next
in the wan afternoon light
of a jet-lagged Sunday.

Travel teaches hard truth –
Great Walls can be blocked
by blizzards, blogspot by
censors, blue sky by smog,

and old men mired in ideology
can meet in museums
by the mausoleum of Mao
to choose among themselves.
But Tao blows which way
it will and grace still flows
through whom it will.
Through tiny frames

born to mouse,
or to dragon, farm girls
from Hubei who pack fire
into forty kilos, carrying

a father’s dream through
far cities, sustained
by songs of the Silver River
dividing celestial lovers

on dark nights far from
pavement. By small dogs
and bright days following
father through fields

feeding on stories, lessons
fit for weary souls – When
days grow hard, remember
well the ones who hunger,

mountain children far
from school. And dear
Wén Yàn, do not forget
to feed your buffalo.

I can still hear her song
soft in my ear, subtle
tones dancing gracefully
around my comprehension.
And I can still feel
her coarse silk warmth
resting on my right shoulder
in a tight bus barreling

through what time
we shared, what spirit
that smiles across culture
and binds the wounds of Babel.

This is why I travel, why
I cross the terminus
into tomorrow, to talk
in darkened halls the idiom

of equations, sharing
PowerPoints and polite
smiles, software suffused
with life-blood, coded bits

of mind, bequeathed.
But Gracie, did I never 
lecture on the math 
of absolute? A fraction

of the infinite
is infinite itself;
the diminutive 
of Grace is grace.