Monday, May 19, 2008

Heavenly Acts

There are some times when you just really don't know what to say. As many of us have, I've watched at a distance as Nature recently made itself known in less pleasant ways then I usually prefer to chronicle in the garden (for the moment setting talk of localized flooding aside).

First there was the tropical cyclone in Myanmar, roaring into the country and catching its people unaware, claiming tens of thousands of lives. Lives persued on the very shores of the land, where nature's protections had been stripped away. Then the horrors of a government unwilling to allow others to help its citizens, seemingly uninterested in offering help themselves.

And then, almost before we had time to process all that, a massive earthquake rocked and shattered the heart of China, drawing attention to shoddy construction as hundreds of buildings, many of them schools, collapsed on thousands more people.

But I haven't written about any of this. I often champion the planet and her floral and fauna more than the human race who seems to take such advantage of the natural world, although we are a part of it. In situations like this, a part of me thinks about how natural disasters such as these are probably Nature's failsafe against over-population. Of course, I have the luxury of not having known anyone in the effected areas.

Of course telling you that makes me sound a little cold and unfeeling, which I'm anything but: coming home from work one night last week I had to pull off the road for a few moments, as I listened to the heartrending radio coverage of the search for a young boy and his grandparents buried in the rubble of their home. That search, you might guess, bore no happy fruit. And even knowing none of them, I cried.

But I didn't have the words. I'm sure I'm not alone. When faced with tragedies like these, what can you possibly say that makes a difference? The folks over at NPR (all of them wiser than me) know who to ask at these times when words fail the rest of us: in this case, a pair of Chinese poets.

As is the poet's special gift, they found the words. And so I'll defer to them here. They are too beautiful not to share.

Thousands upon thousands of anguished cries
Returning to silence and tranquillity
Heavenly acts cannot be predicted
The moon over Wenchuan
Still, a question mark
Aftershocks extend to Chengdu
Sorrow engulfs half the world
Tears turn to ice
Let candlelight melt them away
Children, climb on a dandelion
and line up for heaven.

Elegy, by He Xiaozhu, Chengdu, China.

Chengdu is nothing but earthquake
My brothers are in the earthquake
My friends are in the earthquake
My dog is in the earthquake, too
Liu Hui says, oh Brother
Life in the earthquake is terrible
But I am a thousand miles away
Where people are perfectly normal
Besides being worried
We feel a bit empty.

My Brothers Are in the Quake by Wu Qing, a Chengdu poet visiting Shanghai last week.

You can listen to both these poets read their work here. If you can bear to read, there's more coverage to be had there, as well.

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