Poetry and Slugs: The search continues

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A banana slug nestles in the moss-covered nook of a fallen redwood tree. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Calif.

I still haven’t found the right “love” poem to read at my friends’ wedding. Last night I stayed up a bit too late attempting to mine one of Norton’s anthologies for potential candidates. Let me just say this: the modern poets weren’t high on love. I may end up giving in and buying one of those 100-Best-Love/Wedding-Poems books. But for now, the search continues, and I’ve been inspired. Here’s another great non-wedding-appropriate love poem by Margaret Atwood, whom I worship — nay, adore.

Variations on the Word Love

This is a word we use to plug
holes with. It’s the right size for those warm
blanks in speech, for those red heart-
shaped vacancies on the page that look nothing
like real hearts. Add lace
and you can sell
it. We insert it also in the one empty
space on the printed form
that comes with no instructions. There are whole
magazines with not much in them
but the word love, you can
rub it all over your body and you
can cook with it too. How do we know
it isn’t what goes on at the cool
debaucheries of slugs under damp pieces of cardboard? As for weed-
seedlings nosing their tough snouts up
among the lettuces, they shout it.
Love! Love! sing the soldiers, raising
their glittering knives in salute.

Then there’s the two
of us. This word
is far too short for us, it has only
four letters, too sparse
to fill those deep bare
vacuums between the stars
that press on us with their deafness.
It’s not love we don’t wish
to fall into, but that fear.
This word is not enough but it will
have to do. It’s a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again in wonder
and pain, a breath, a finger
grip on a cliffside. You can
hold on or let go.

—Margaret Atwood

On the Prowl for Poetry …

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A tangle of driftwood among the rocks. This stretch of beach in Bandon, Oregon, is one of the most amazing intersections of land and sea I've seen. To photograph it at sunset was a gift.

Two friends recently asked me to read a poem during their wedding ceremony. So I’ve been on the prowl for poems about love, scouring my college copy of Norton’s Anthology of Modern Poetry and back issues of the New Yorker … Read this Tennessee Williams poem in the April-4 issue of the latter, and it has been hanging in my head ever since. I suppose this would be way too dark a choice for most folks on their wedding day, and so the search continues. But, despite its post-apocalyptic nature, I must say that I find “Your Blinded Hand” most beautiful.

Your Blinded Hand

Suppose that
everything that greens and grows
should blacken in one moment, flower and branch.
I think that I would find your blinded hand.
Suppose that your cry and mine were lost among numberless cries
in a city of fire when the earth is afire,
I must still believe that somehow I would find your blinded hand.
Through flames everywhere
consuming earth and air
I must believe that somehow, if only one moment were offered,
I would
find your hand.
I know as, of course, you know
the immeasurable wilderness that would exist
in the moment of fire.
But I would hear your cry and you’d hear mine and each of us
Would find
the other’s hand.
We know
That it might not be so.
But for this quiet moment, if only for this
Moment,
and against all reason,
let us believe, and believe in our hearts,
that somehow it would be so.
I’d hear your cry, you mine—
And each of us would find a blinded hand.
—Tennessee Williams

It’s a Sign: Stay on the path

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Spent five days at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat, an ashram in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. It was serene, beautiful and challenging. Along with eating vegetarian food, meditating and practicing yoga, I took daily walks into the woods.

I loved the signage marking the trails. There was the red path, which led to blustery Rollins Peak, a steep outcrop that overlooked its namesake town. From the top you could curl up between rocks and gaze out over the distant snowcapped mountain range. And there was the blue path: A milder hike with a lower grade, the trail opened to a vista of a tree-filled valley. Painted rocks and cairns decorated this small shelf, where a rock wall sheltered you from the wind but not the warming rays of the Colorado sun.

There was no wrong route to take. The only thing that mattered is that you followed the signs and stayed on the path. I think that makes for some fine advice in life, as well as in hiking.


Islands in the making

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While canoeing along the southern end of the Everglades this past March, I came across many little islands in the making. These islets, often in the form of one or two lonely red mangrove trees, struck me as a symbol of hope.

Despite the vast sea stretching endlessly before them, floating seed pods willed themselves into a sandbank somewhere, harnessing the powers of great tidal shifts, forming themselves a new home. In the spirit of exploration and even of the persistence of life against all odds, these lone trees turned themselves into lone islands … And where lone islands form, other life is sure to follow.

High in the treetops of narrow inlets and the tiny, well-rooted trees all around us, birds would perch and, sometimes even nest, forming silhouettes against the colors of a sky transitioning into darkness. How glorious that in five, ten or twenty years time, I may be parking my canoe on the banks of one of these “lone tree islets,” now independent islands in their own rights, and spending a night under the stars.

Spring: More than a feeling

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How amazing that, hovering right over our heads on the side of a busy street, spring is making magic? For all the glorious architectural creations of bygone generations and other beautiful manmade wonders, I still think the blooming of a flower is the most amazing thing.

Snapped the photo above after taking a walking tour of my neighborhood with SF City Guides. I’ve lived in Noe Valley for less than a year, but I’ve been coming to visit for almost a decade and figured it was time to learn about the truth behind its many charms.

You can see more photos from my tour on Flickr.

Once again, I am part of a gentrifying sweep, moving an old working-class neighborhood with an appealing low skyline into the ranks of the less affordable. This reminds me of my old Brooklyn neighborhood, Cobble Hill; so do all the cute boutiques, eateries and baby strollers.

But … It was great to have my eyes opened to all the architectural details they would normally gloss over. And now I can proudly distinguish a Stick House from a Queen Anne or an Edwardian. One sad note is that Nelly Street was once Orient Street, but they changed the name during World War II. People are silly, aren’t they? But whoever Nelly was, I am sure she was happy to get her own street.

Tours by SF City Guides are free and happening all the time, all around the city (schedule). And you can catch the latest buzz about lovely Noe Valley on this fun local blog, noevalleysf.blogspot.com.

By the strength of my own arms

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In this day of crowded flights and eternal commutes, it is refreshing to get somewhere by the mere strength of your limbs. Canoeing eight miles out to the barrier islands off the Florida Everglades felt like exploring another world. I couldn’t help but be amazed and inspired by the fact that we managed to get four people, three days worth of food and water, and enough gear to provide clothing and shelter for us all out to these uninhabited islands without so much as a drop of gasoline.

As we paddled through increasingly choppy waves the last hour of our first day, I suddenly felt a new awe for those explorers who—before sailboats, steamships, compasses or even GPS—loaded up friends, family and supplies onto outriggers and canoes and headed deep into the wide unknown sea to find new places. They must have been incredibly brave. They also probably had amazing abs. 😉

Thinking about relationships right now …

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A picnic table at Swanton Berry Farm on the Pacific Coast Highway

Relationships, of all kinds, are the most simple and yet difficult of things. In my head it should be easygoing like this picnic table, a place where you can sit down and share something plain and beautiful, face to face, under a perfect sky. But then there were many days of rain and fog to make the grass beneath this blue table so very green, right?

Remembering Mr. Korematsu

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On Sun., Jan. 30, family, friends and fans of the late Fred Korematsu, filled UC Berekely’s 705-seat Wheeler auditorium. The sold-out program, which featured Rev. Jesse Jackson as the keynote speaker, was in honor of the first ever Fred T. Korematsu Day, a California holiday acknowledging one Japanese American’s continued fight for civil rights. Signed into law last September, the day harbors a mission of education: The events leading to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II must never be repeated again for any group of Americans of any creed or of any culture.

It was an honor to cover the event (see article), and especially compelling as a UC Berkeley Asian American Studies grad. I learned about the Korematsu vs. the United States (1944) case my freshman year of college. It was during an introduction to Asian American studies class, a course that opened my eyes to a history I never knew I had.

Many more courses would follow, as I lapped up the art, theory, literature and struggles of the Asian American story, one that stretched back as early as the Western railroads and Hawaiian plantations and continued through the present with radical civil rights activists and immigration reform. I hadn’t known that Asian Americans could write novels, much less make history. And I felt, suddenly, like I could truly be whoever I wanted to be …

Four (and a half) years later, I sat in the same Wheeler auditorium with dozens of other Ethnic Studies program grads. We had caps and tassles on our heads and yellow Third World Liberation Front bands on our arms. We were then remembering another struggle, that of the the 1965 Civil Rights movement, and protesting the potential scaling back of the beloved programs those struggles had won. The message was similar: Remember the past. It will help you make a better future.

While my English department graduation was more grand in scale — with more than 400 students tossing beach balls as thousands of audience members looked down from the Greek Theatre’s seats above — my Asian American Studies graduation was far more personal. To me it represented both my identity as an Asian American/Korean Amerian/Hapa American and the new relationship I had with my country — one that was honest and inclusive and one that I felt I should fight for.

Here are some photos I snapped for the event, which I covered for the Nichi Bei Weekly.

A screenshot of Fred Korematsu as a young man. A screening "Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story," a documentary by Eric Paul Fournier, was shown after the ceremony.

Left to Right: Korematsu family members — son Ken Korematsu, daughter Karen Korematsu and wife Kathryn Korematsu — join hands with Rev. Jesse Jackson, California assembly member Warren Furutani, Korematsu Institute Director Ling Liu and news anchor Sydnie Kohara on on stage at UC Berkeley's Wheeler auditorium.

Emcee Sydnie Kohara, an anchor for CBS 5 Eyewitness News, stands in front of a screenshot of Fred Korematsu who wearing the Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Clinton. Kohara, a Louisiana native, said she did not learn about the Korematsu case until after college, when she moved to California.

Jesse Jackson stands in front of a slide of him with Fred Korematsu. Jackson said he would never forget meeting Korematsu, who he described as a modest man with “quiet, unflinching courage."

You can watch video clips of Mr. Korematsu and learn more about his history and legacy at Korematsu Institute’s Web site. Also, visit the Asian Law Caucus to learn more about current civil rights issues affecting Asian Americans, as well as Americans of all ethnicities.