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About this Poem 

"I was born in Shanghai, the end of the Yangtze. Now I live at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, a confluence of time and space layered with histories of geology, geography, and cultures. The Twin Cities sit on both sides of the magnificent sandstone bluffs. If you pick up a sandstone on the beach, you can crush it with your fingers, and you get a handful of sand. Each grain tells a story of the land, river, and people. Each drop of water contains a paradise. I want to sing this paradise in Ghazal, a tradition from the mystical poet Rumi."
—Wang Ping

And the Old Man Speaks of Paradise: a Ghazal

 

Do not move. Let me speak of a river in paradise
A turquoise gift from fiery stars that is paradise

How do you measure a river’s weight, color, smell, touch?
How do you feel the veins of sand in a breathing paradise?

Eons of earth story, long before rocks, plants or bones
Bulging with flesh and blood in every corner of paradise

You call me Old Man, 12,000 years old, but really I’m a baby of
River Warren, swollen with glacier water flooding the paradise

My torso sloughed by old ice, two cities on sandstone bluffs
Headwaters of a 2350-mile road towards the gulf of paradise

A walk along the beach, a bag of rocks, fossils and agates
Each tells stories of the river, land & life—a kinship of paradise

Come to me at dawn or dusk, by foot, canoe or a single shell
To greet eagles, cranes, fox, trees…a ten-mile gorge of paradise

Gar, bass, goldeye, redhorse, bowfin, stoneroller, buffalo, drum, sunfish
Sickleback, darter, walleye, dace, mooneye…in the waves of paradise

The St. Anthony Fall that walked up 10 miles from Fort Snelling
Clams and shells in Kasota stones—layered history of paradise

Put your fingers into the bluff, and pull a handful of sand
From the Ordovician sea, each perfect to make a paradise

From time to time, I take you into the amniotic womb
A reminder of our origin from a black, red, white, blue paradise

Do not dam me. To move freely is to evolve is to live
Lock feeds fear feeds hate feeds violence to the base of paradise

The Mississippi, temple on earth, home of all living things
Would you tread with love, through the heart of paradise?

We are water—H2O—two hands under an open heart
Pulsing, dissolving, bonding the earth to a green paradise

Stop seeking before or after life, for a paradise
Already in us, in each cell of being that is paradise

Copyright © 2016 by Wang Ping. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Copyright © 2016 by Wang Ping. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Wang Ping

Wang Ping

Wang Ping is a poet and fiction writer whose work often speaks to the interweaving of two cultures—Chinese and American—and what occurs at the sometimes stark and violent intersection of two different sets of languages, traditions, and histories.

by this poet

poem

I'm not a singer, but please
let me sing of the peacemakers
on the streets and internet, your candles
in this darkest moment of night,
your bodies on the steps of government buildings,
your voices from the roots of grasses and trees,
from your pit of conscience.

I'm not a prayer

poem

We carry tears in our eyes: good-bye father, good-bye mother

We carry soil in small bags: may home never fade in our hearts

We carry names, stories, memories of our villages, fields, boats

We carry scars from proxy wars of greed

We carry carnage of mining, droughts, floods, genocides

poem

What more can you say
Nomad daughter of glaciers?
City has bleached the sun from your face
18 years old with a freckled nose
Hides of yak, barley, sandy wind
Knees stiff from scrubbing toilets
What dreams keep you alive
On the marble floor of Gangkar Hotel?

Drunken tourists