Friday, March 30, 2012

The Ancient Language

This was inspired by a poetry prompt from the "naming constellations" blog.

This was a lot of fun, and it's funny how things just sort of come together. You can read about the prompt in detail via the link above, but the gist of it is to find something impermanent like a post card, basically something to write on that is usually intended to be temporary. Then write a poem about "the idea of ephemera, ephemerals, ephemerality, etc." To write about something disappearing, something you don't expect to disappear.

I set out to find something I have lying around my apartment that could be considered an impermanent piece of paper, post card, newspaper, anything. I have nothing. I left the United States a little more than three months ago, basically on a whim, without any prior planning. I booked a flight and less than 8 hours later I was on a plane, with just a backpack of some clothing, two poetry books, three harmonicas, and a passport. And in an effort to keep life simple, I haven't been collecting much these past few months, so I don't have any random bits of paper on which I can scribble a poem. I have a journal, but the common blank paper didn't seem unique enough.

However! I remembered that while I was in Kathmandu, Nepal in January just before coming to China, I picked up a few souvenir-type-things for friends that I have yet to send in the mail, one of which is a small Buddhist calendar made out of recycled paper. Talk about the very idea of impermanence...a single page of a recycled calendar -- February, a month gone by.

And when I flipped open the calendar and landed on February, I couldn't believe the image before my eyes. Fish! The reason this struck me as funny is because at the kindergarten where I teach ESL, the students have been trying to teach me the word for fish, which is yú (kind of sounds like "you" with a rising tone, as if it is a question). Just earlier today as I was standing with some of my students on the playground near the fish pond, and as they repeated the Chinese word for fish, and as my ears kept hearing the word for "moon" which is yuè (kind of sounds like "yway" I guess), we all broke out in laughter as I kept pointing to the fish while saying "moon!"

It's also funny that the Chinese word for month and moon are the same, so what better paper to stumble upon than a calendar page.

All of the elements of this poetry prompt, and the journey of putting it all together, was just too perfect and too fun.

The next step in this prompt is to leave my poem in a public place, so that's what I plan to do after work for its perfect home.

Update (Saturday, March 31st): I left the poem on this door of an old building...


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