cave©papa osmubal

cave©papa osmubal

joanna radwanska-williams

In a poet’s heart
There is a piece of ice,
Said Graham Greene.

A piece?
A cave of ice, resplendent, reaching deep
Into the soil of his being
The permafrost of knowledge
Preserving memory
In its original form
Like the Iceman Otzi, who,
When found in alpine glacier
Yielded all his secrets to the world
Five thousand years later,
His coat of deer pelt and his copper axe
His calculated risk
Of imminent danger,
His passion for the kill.

If we could dig even deeper, under
The cave of ice
The permafrost
We would find the magma of the mantle
Of the earth
Of the soul’s core —
The dragon’s tongues which cannot be tamed
But which give life
To the icy sparkle
Of his words.

August 17, 1999 at CUHK

in praise of smog

smoggy night©papa osmubal

smoggy night©papa osmubal

in praise of smog
joanna radwanska-williams

Consider not the quality
Of choking
But the soft quality
Of haze.
Its Brownian motion enwraps
Green valleys
In sepia monochrome.
Pedestrians glide in a daze
Through wispy curls
Of palpable air
Which sticks to the fingers
Like gloves.
The smog’s maquillage
Paints Mona Lisas.
Consider not the coal dust
But its graphic chiaroscuro.
Consider not the exhaust
But the puffy nature of its wafting
Like breath of gray cherubs.
Who will praise the smog
Its dragon’s scales
Its tail softly flicking
The waters of the harbor?
Who will wrap this unloved child
In its own gray blanket
And put it to rest…

August 20, 1999, Shatin

li bai and the mountain

chinese tombstone ©papa osmubal

chinese tombstone ©papa osmubal

li bai and the mountain
joanna radwanska-williams

At Li Bai’s grave, I touch the stones that hold
The earthly remnants of his luminous soul.
In the Temple of Heavenly Bai
His white marble likeness
Stares at me through twelve centuries of time.
The statue was carved when people still remembered
The expression of his face,
The face of a poet, ordinary, made of flesh,
Whose eyes are made of spirit,
Whose tongue of song.
Li Bai loved spirit and song
Both of the flesh and heavenly kind.
In the gift shop, I buy
A clay figurine
Li Bai and the wine jug,
Drinking to escape the earth.
When he died, Li Bai escaped the earth,
Flying to heaven on a fish.
I think of other poets
Whose death I have imagined.
Alexander Pushkin on his deathbed
Asked for the taste of the tart berry morozhka,
Which grows in northern Russian forests,
Which I have found in Arctic taiga, on the White Sea.
Over Boris Pasternak’s grave
I recited Hamlet, and remembered
How a Russian friend once told me
When she was fourteen, she climbed the fence unnoticed
To look at Pasternak in his garden.
He wore galoshes.
What makes a poet’s soul?
He is like other souls, but is aware
Of his existence.
Sometimes the other souls are bodies, then the world
Seems without soul.
The poet feeds his body, dines,
Drinks wine, sings, dances, sleeps, tries to accept
That he is made of body.
Something inside him contradicts him
And laughs at him while he is eating.
He stops feeding his body and wipes his lips from wine.
He leaves the table and his guests
And tries to walk away from himself.
His body keeps following him.
So he walks to the top of the mountain, higher than the birds,
Where there is only the bright moon,
Where the rocks speak his language of silence.
So many days, he will come down from the mountain
And through his lips will pass the words
Born of the silence of stone.
When he speaks, people feel music.
When he speaks, the poet feels pain.
Then one day, alone on the mountain, he reaches
For the reflection of the moon.
If only he could be his own reflection,
Flying away from himself, on spirit wings,
Through miles and miles of air,
Down to the river and up into the sky
To a point of vanishing, like an arrow
That pierces time.
Li Bai has vanished.
His granddaughters, who exist in time,
Have found his body. Now it is buried here.
I touch the stone, the marble, and the mountain.
They know his secret, where he has gone,
They understand his silence.
If I am silent, speaking without sound,
I can hear the song of the mountain,
I can catch a faint echo of meaning,
I can imagine the face of Li Bai
In the reflection of the moon.

Nanjing, November 22, 1996


bamboo ©papa osmubal

bamboo ©papa osmubal

joanna radwanska-williams

On the silk farm, I pick up from the dust
A shard of Chinese ceramic:
A courtesan’s face in blue underglaze.
It had been part of some plate or cup,
In the same pattern that once served an emperor,
Now mass produced for the gong zuo ren.
It may have served rice porridge, or green tea,
Or beef and noodle stew– niu rou fangzi tang.
Then one day, it fell from the farmer’s hands,
Spilling broth and noodles, cracking on the concrete floor.
Now it is helping me to tell my story:
How we stopped on the roadside to look at the silkworms,
Among rice and cotton fields, somewhere in Rudong County,
Between the Long River and the Yellow Sea,
How the peasants stared at us in welcome,
Five generations on a farm,
How the greatgrandmother led us to the silk shed,
Where hundreds of worms spin magic cocoons,
Wriggle, and munch on mulberry leaves.
Perhaps the greatgrandmother, sixty years ago,
Had the face of the blue-glazed courtesan?
On the street, I see many faces, some
Are as beautiful as the finest porcelain.
They ride on bicycles.
They smile and speak to me in English.
They wear the best silk in the world,
But they don’t want to be silk farmers.
They want to fly to New York or Paris,
Where all beautiful women go.
They have microwave ovens and magnetic phone cards.
To call New York costs twenty kuai. Tai gui le.
I will take the blue courtesan home with me.
I will wash the dirt off her face,
I will lovingly wrap her in wire-wrap,
Gold-plated jeweler’s wire, around her,
Like a cage. Now she is a pendant
On a golden chain, a precious memory
Worn around the neck. She will see New York,
Paris, Chicago, London, Tel Aviv.
She will live to tell her story
To five generations.
She will leave behind
The land of silk and fine porcelain,
Endless rice fields and millions of bicycles,
Skyscrapers made of ceramic white tiles,
Nanjing, Shanghai, Dragon Air,
Writing that looks like little bamboo shoots,
Food stands at every street corner,
The golden cage of history,
Her home.

Nanjing, Oct. 15, 1996


Joanna Radwanska-Williams received her BA in English and linguistics (1981) and her PhD in linguistics (1989) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Paradigms Lost: The Linguistic Theory of Mikolaj Kruszweski. Her research interests include the history of linguistics, language teaching methodology, poetics, semiotics, and interdisciplinary applications of linguistics, and she has (co-)authored over 30 journal articles and book chapters in these fields. She is currently a professor and assistant to the chair of the English Language Teaching and Research Committee at Macao Polytechnic Institute. She is also the editor of Intercultural Communication Studies.