All That Divides Us: Poems (Swenson Poetry Award) by Elinor Benedict

By Elinor Benedict

2000 Winner of the could Swenson Poetry Award. Foreword by means of Maxine Kumin. even supposing the poems during this assortment will not be narrative, they do current a story, steadily unspooling the story of the poet's insurgent aunt, who left the kin "to marry a Chinaman" within the 1930's. it really is an outdated tale, choked with poignancy, secret, family members satisfaction, and doubt. whilst the aunt returns to die, the poet, now grown, discovers in herself the necessity to reclaim the connections that her relations had severed. She travels to China numerous times--to examine. progressively, via wide-eyed, insightful poems, we see the poet rebuild together with her chinese language cousins a feeling of iteration, kin, and humanity--bridging over all that divides us.

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44] F U L L M O O N H A R V E S T F E S T I VA L AT T H E S PA C I T Y In the restaurant and all over China tonight there are millions of mooncakes, flat and round, white with mysterious dark centers. Here in this luxury retreat built for him, aging moon-faced Mao never quite arrived, never climbed the three hills or dipped in the seventy-two springs that dried up, or swam in the Olympic pool still waiting without ripples behind glass walls. Now among second-level bureaucrats driving Japanese cars, our study group steps from a minibus, inhales the bourgeois roses.

Sweaty after the pageant, the children troop outside, strip to underpants and swim two by two in a raised pool the size of a victory garden. Some children’s ribs show, none looks fat enough for a dragon to eat. But they are strong and hungry. They kick vigorously toward the smell of soup. Fed, smiling again, they run to play in a yard where the earth is polished from so many feet. The guests follow, well-lunched and laughing as they watch a relay race of letters delivered to a little green mailbox; braided rings tossed around a stick; and run-sheep-run, only in this country, it’s a rabbit [46] with cardboard ears, running for his life to the sizzle of a young teacher’s tambourine, then found and hugged– not eaten–and settled down for a nap to singsong music as the visitors feel dreamy, charmed, seeing themselves playing those games years ago in vacant lots, backyards.

He puts his palms together, offers: Birds of a feather flock together? This time he doesn’t smile. We clear our throats, look out the window. Next he takes us to the section where he says beggars, opium addicts, prostitutes once crammed the streets like dead fish. Redlight district, he intones, waving to an empty plaza, now clean as whistle with communism. We wonder whether to smile or frown. While we visit the museum, Mr. Yuan stays outside by the bus, chain-smoking. Like a smokestack, we could say as we return, looking him over secretly at close range.

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