Thoughts from Xi'an

At the end of August, I had the opportunity to be a delegate for the Dragon 100 in Hong Kong and China. It was amazing to be with so many Chinese leaders from around the world. Thanks to the Wing Luke Asian Museum, Dragon Foundation, and Washington State Arts Commission for their support.

Dragon 100

In the photo above, you can see half my face fifth from the left in the top row to the right of the really tall guy. Below are some of my informal impressions from the experience.
What I eat in a day
could feed 100 people.

What I see in one hour
could inspire 100 lives.

How did I become so lucky
to be descended from a dragon,
to be fed and clothed
with a wooden comb for my black hair?

How can I lift this fork and feel blessed
when children come to my hotel window
hungry ghosts all waiting to be fed?

When my bones are brittle and my breath is cold
acid raindrops from the dark grey sky
beat the drum tower down to red splinters.

I crawl towards a tiny bird
to warm the blood in my veins
with fire from her flapping wings.
11th photo op
of an old man with cigarette
who stares at the camera
while the tea pot bleeds.

His ashes surround two cups --
cracked blue and white porcelain.

Above a Mao jacket
his eyes declaim:
Good morning, Young Dragons.
Zhao an, Xiao Long.
[photo of boy]
Black mat floors
puddle from the water of
pipes hidden above the ceiling
in the archaeology exhibition.

Unable to see
the boy paws
the Plexiglas.

His fumbling prints leave
an indecipherable hieroglyphic.
[photo of luggage]
In the Xi’an airport at midnight
unattended baggage waits
in the empty load/unload zone.

A body becomes the testing ground
for paperwork between countries.
[photo of museum]
Pigs stare quietly
from the holding pen
of the truck.

On the bus
tourists chatter noisily
until one passes out
from the air-con mixed with
the stale taste of pork fat
from breakfast.
[photo of museum pool]
Concrete encased flowers
learn not to cry out.

Just bloom
a pretty purple
fed by sugar water.
[photo of polluted China]
An anthem of love
echoes throughout
the hollow auditorium.

Hands raise a salute
of the mimed cigarette lighters
with sputtering flames.
[photo of terra cotta warriors]
He had one of those faces
I’d only seen in clay.

The clay from 2,000 years ago
dug up from the tomb
of a decomposed emperor.

I reach to touch this face
three seats away
indented to the bone.

Moving closer
I notice that
the smoothness
is pockmarked.

I close my eyes
to decipher this coded braille
pockets of space and time
in the pores of past and present.

Confused like the clay
dug up from a grave.

Confused like the face
struggling to stay alive.

Confused like this boy
with many futures to choose.

Fingers trace the topography of being Chinese
the outer shell of a soul where
eyebrows catch the perspiration,
the flooded field before the flood,
rivulets through the hills
of oil and dust.
[photo of bride]
Red flower
I go towards you
and see curled leaves
above rotted roots.
[photo of cardboard by bride]

I hope you’ve enjoyed the photos and poetry. The final photos are from the Xi’an Drum Tower. This was my favorite place despite the pollution hovering outside and the odd context of the drums.

[photo of drum and pollution]

[photo of drums]
The “No Smoking” sign tacked to the drum stand is my favorite touch
Here’s a close-up


  1. seems that you like expressing everything poetically...

    very artsy...

  2. Anonymous13.9.06

    uWow...I can smell it like animal grease and cabbage and cigarettes and sweet life all included.

    Byron, you are one of a kind. Of course you are a dragon descendant.

    Of course....

    Hope to see you soon

    Xie xie and wo ai ni, my friend

  3. keke~ even though i never know how to write or appreciate poems, i feel myself getting much more artistic after readin ur entry, bryon~

    the whole entry seems to have brought us to dreams... keke~

  4. liz peng27.9.06

    i miss you; people who understand my jokes are difficult to come by in the south of france. let me know how your essay is coming. i have yet to start, how about you? x, liz

  5. Thanks for sharing this. It's really insightful, and highlights for me the differences in terms of family commitment and obligation between Americans and much of the world. I've sensed that since moving here, because we live in a neighborhood that's about 1/3 Chinese and 1/3 Filipino; I've felt very conspicuous the times I've eaten out on my own (or even just with Simon) at local family restaurants. I sense it from my students who come from non-Anglo backgrounds as well; there's a transience and dispersal that happens in many white American families, I think. Maybe it's not a racial thing; it's maybe just how North America works. At the same time, as more or less an orphan since my mom's death, it's a bit liberating not to have all those obligations, even if it feels lonely at times.

    I'm also struck by the images of China itself, which seems to be undergoing such profound changes right now -- at least in the big globalized cities. There's been a bit of cultural anxiety in the local press up here ("China Rising" and titles like that -- as if it's something to be afraid of). I'd love to go there, but I think I would need a chaperone for sure -- the scale of the country is pretty intimidating. But what a wonderful opportunity for you. Do you see this trip translating into new pieces? I guess that's a dumb question, but anything specific in the works?


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