Four prose poems by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Author’s Note: “In Inland Islands, a serialized narrative, Gigi, has had to suffer a life of travel and unpredictability given her lover’s work as an anthropologist. She’s finally found a connection in this new tribal enclave, and through her immersion in it, starts gaining insight into her own self and relationship with Geronimo.Here, each prose poem works with a foreign word or phrase – as a point of inception – then drives itself forward through various acts and/or turns of translation.” –Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
nuit blanche :: sleepless night
“I remember the day I killed the gecko,” Gigi’s lover says. “It stood still, as the bark of the tree, as if it didn’t know a rock had just been smashed into its torso. Its tail was flailing. Its two hind feet too. It was terrible.” A small boy nearby had pointed to the tiny green arc across the gecko’s brow, and said: “You just killed a naga, and she looks like Queen Samuddaja.” How she didn’t know too, how Queen Samuddaja remained oblivious of being in the world of naga, what with the disguise of her husband and her attendants. Naga can be partly or wholly human. That’s why you look for the head and the tail, as with any story retold, to help hook opal buttons to the end, where the narrative really trembles, and matters. “Did it matter to you?” Gigi asks. “Did it matter to you that you killed something? Did you feel terrible? Was that the first time you experienced death? And what happened after? What did you do?”
pari passu :: with equal step
Within the Jatakas, naga often presided over territories, bringing them good fortune. So not having a naga around was bad news. Of the four Jatakas that feature snakes and reptiles – the Godha, Campeyya, Manikantha and Samkhapala Jatakas – the Samkhapala Jataka seems to speak directly to this poem, this sudden awareness of a violent memory. The Samkhapala Jataka is painted in three parts at Ajanta, with one showing a white snake, big as a winding river, dragged along the ground by a hunting party. “There were six men, who looked at once ecstatic and doubtful,” Gigi says. “One seemed to hesitate, his spear looking to the ground. Another had his feet turned the other way, as if ready to walk away. The other four put a rope through its nose. And the snake looked like a buffalo, bleeding from its nostrils.” In one account, the detail is staggering. That the blood looks redder against white skin, which pales into something translucent. Like light. Or morning dew.
o sancta simplicitas :: oh holy simplicity
“Do you think Duyyodhana was truly happy when what he’d always wished for came true?” her lover asks. Gigi doesn’t seem to think the question important or difficult. “He’d always wanted to be born a naga,” Gigi says, “and at the end of his life, he rebirthed as Samkhapala. A full circle, yes?” A dream and a wish that realized itself. Happy beginning. Happy ending. “But he raged against the naga,” her lover says. “There was so much wealth. Too much of it. Too much of the accoutrements and jewels and grand dinners and ornamentation and lush palaces. Its gardens. Its centuries of knowledge, impossible to read. Or know enough of. Too much life, and worse, a life of the mundane and hedonistic.” Gigi unbraids her hair, and lets it drop loosely around her face. She has just cut off a chunk of hair, from above her shoulder to her waist. The soft curls now hung about her face, like a spray of hooks against her jaw. She holds the thick swath of hair in her right hand, as if she’d just harvested rice from the fields.
sang froid :: cold blood
“Its body was slender as a serpent’s,” her lover remembers. “It looked like a blade of green, with bits of yolk. I didn’t know geckos looked like that. I yelled at it, and flailed my arms. To make it run away.” Gigi looks at her lover for more story, and emotion, but notices his mind has stopped itself, either to contemplate or to look for a picture of greater clarity. It is as if the memory were fresh, for the first time, but refused to be reduced to any easy answers, to settle softly into the tranquil that comes with recognition and the need for forgiveness, and moving on. The memory seems to beg a greater underpinning and bearing. “That’s what Jan Hus said when they tried to burn him,” her lover says. “Strange but lovely figure. An enigma. A Bohemian. They had tied him to the stake. I imagine a large crowd had gathered to watch. Then an old peasant walked over, and added a handful of twigs to the pile, as if having a pyre wasn’t tragic enough. That was when Hus exclaimed, ‘O sancta simplicitas!’ The old man wasn’t aware of what he was doing, the full implication of his act. And how could he have, in the mob where there’s anger and mayhem? Malice and bloodlust. Indifference. But sympathy and sadness too. How could he have known?”
Helming Squircle Line Press as its founding editor, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is the author of I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist, forthcoming in 2013. He has edited more than ten books and co-produced three audio books, several pro bono for non-profit organizations. He is the recipient of the PEN American Center Shorts Prize, Swale Life Poetry Prize, Cyclamens & Swords Poetry Prize, Stepping Stones Nigeria Poetry Prize, and Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize. An interdisciplinary artist, Desmond also works in clay, his ceramic works housed in museums in India, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US.