Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Room of My Own: If on an Autumn’s Night a Sojourner

written on the night of the Chinese Moon Festival

walking aimlessly
Taipei moonlight
in Ajax streets

a home
away from home
harvest moon

moon viewing
a long shadow
beside me

tenth autumn...
tonight's moon not like
the one back home


  1. The last haiku refers to an old Chinese proverb popular at the turn of the 2oth century: The moon in foreign countries is particularly round and bright. This proverb means that a foreign country always appears more appealing to those who are Chinese. This thematic concern is well explored in the second tanka in my sequence, Politics/Poetics of Re-Homing, II:

    Mom once said
    foreign moon bigger
    than ours...
    the harvest moon hangs high
    between Pacific shores

  2. Below is a relevant excerpt from Robert D. Wilson's An Evaluation and Introspective Look at the Haiku of Chen-ou Liu, which was first published in Simply Haiku, Vol. 8. No. 2, Autumn 2010:

    no wine, reading
    Li Po


    As an individual, Li Po was free-spirited. He took an unusual path in life and career. Well-traveled at a young age, he didn’t bother to take the Chinese civil service examination which was viewed as the only way to elevate one’s social status and guarantee their prosperity. He dared to challenge authority, and loved a good bottle of wine and making friends. His nonconformist personality characteristics continue to stand as a model for me to emulate.

    As a poet, Li Po is one of the most loved Chinese poets and his poems are widely taught in schools, memorized by children, and constantly recited on all sorts of occasions. The first poem I ever memorized was his “Thoughts in Night Quiet,” the best known of all Chinese poems, especially among Chinese living overseas:

    Seeing moonlight here at my bed,
    and thinking it's frost on the ground,

    I look up, gaze at the mountain moon,
    then back, dreaming of my old home.

    -- translated by David Hinton

    When I was six, my father recited this poem to me with watery eyes. At that time, he hadn’t seen his family for two decades since he came to Taiwan in 1949, with the defeated Chinese Nationalist Army. I memorized the poem and didn’t fully reflect upon its meaning in my heart and mind. Little was understood about the suffering endured by my father and his generation due to the Chinese Civil War. It was not until the seventh year since I emigrated to Canada that I’d experienced this pang of nostalgic longing explored in Li’s poem through the moon imagery – a symbol of distance and family reunion – portrayed in simple and evocative language. Since then, every time when I thought of my parents, my family, and my hometown, I recited “Thoughts in Night Quiet,” which is not only Li’s poem but also mine.

    More importantly, some of the recurring themes in Li’s poems appeal greatly to me, such as dreams, solitude/loneliness, and the passage of time, and they become the key motifs of my work. His skillful use of language, his great sensibility toward imagery, and his deep insights into the human condition through a Taoist lens capture nuanced human experience, which is the main goal I want to achieve in my writing.