Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 25, 2006

Angel Island Poetry

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 4:05 am

~ ~

America has power, but not justice.
In prison, we were victimized as if we were guilty.
Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.
I bow my head in reflection but there is
nothing I can do.

~ ~

Because my house had bare walls, I began
rushing all about.
The waves are happy, laughing “Ha-ha!”
When I arrived on Island, I heard I was
forbidden to land.
I could do nothing but frown and feel angry at heaven.

~ ~

Clouds and hills all around, a single fresh color
Time slips away and cannot be recaptured
Although the feeling of spring is everywhere
How can we fulfill our heartfelt wish?

~ ~

Departing

Detained in this wooden house for several tens of days,
It is all because of the Mexican exclusion law which implicates me,
It’s a pity heroes have no way of exercising their prowess.
I can only await the word so that I can snap Zu’s whip.

From now on, I am departing far from this building.
All of my fellow villagers are rejoicing with me.
Don’t say that everything within is Western styled.
Even if it is built of jade, it has turned into a cage.

~ ~

Dwelling in the wooden building, I give vent to despair
Searching for a living while perching on a mountain–it’s hard to earn glory
Letters do not arrive, my thoughts in vain
In bitterness and sadness, I watch for my early release

~ ~

Hero

Being idle in the wooden building, I opened a window.
The morning breeze and bright moon lingered together.
I reminisce the native village far away, cut off by clouds and mountains.
On the little island the wailing of cold, wild geese can be faintly heard.

The hero who has lost his way can talk meaninglessly of the sword.
The poet at the end of the road can only ascend a tower.
One should know that when the country is weak, the people’s spirit dies.
Why else do we come to this place to be imprisoned?

~ ~

I am distressed that we Chinese are
in this wooden building
It is actually racial barriers which cause
difficulties on Yingtai Island.
Even while they are tyrannical they still
claim to be humanitarian.
I should regret my taking the risks of
coming in the first place.

~ ~

I came to the United States because I was poor
How was I to know fate would be so perverse as to imprison me
News and letters do not reach me and I can only fantasize.
I hear no news so who sympathizes with me?

~ ~

(pdf)

I hastened here for the sake of my stomach
And landed promptly in jail.
Imprisoned I am melancholy; even when I
eat, my heart is troubled.
They treat us Chinese badly, and feed us
yellowed greens.
My weak physique cannot take it; I am truly
miserable.

~ ~

I have been in the wooden building for more than ten days
My eyes have seen people being deported back
Witnessing that scene makes one sad
Spending more than five thousand golden coins
I drifted alone to this place
If I am unlucky enough to be deported, my parents will be grieved.
The interest piles one on top of another
I do not know yet when it will be completely repaid to the creditor.

~ ~

I left my native village and drifted to the American continent
The moon has waned and waxed in turn several times
My family anxiously waits for me to mail them news
It is difficult to meet the wild geese and my sorrow is unending

~ ~

I remember since boarding a ship to America
Till now, the moon has waned twice
I want to send a letter of comfort but regret that there is little time
The family is expectant but their hopes are in vain

~ ~

I thoroughly hate the barbarians because they
do not respect justice.
They continually promulgate harsh laws to
show off their prowess.
They oppress the overseas Chinese and also
violate treaties.
They examine for hookworms and practice
hundreds of despotic acts.

~ ~

(pdf)

In January I started to leave for Mexico.
Passage reservations delayed me until mid-autumn.
I had whole-heartedly counted on a quick landing at the city,
But the year’s almost ending and I am still here in this building.

~ ~

In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.
The forms and shadows saddened me; upon
seeing the landscape, I composed a poem.
The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.
The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.
Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.
The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.

~ ~

(pdf)

The insects chirp outside the four walls.
The inmates often sigh.
Thinking of affairs back home,
Unconscious tears wet my lapel.

~ ~

It’s been a long time since I left my home village
Who could know I’d end up imprisoned in a wooden building?
I’m heartsick when I see my reflection, my handkerchief is soaked in tears
I ask you, what crime did I commit to deserve this?

— Li Hai of Nancun, Taishan

~ ~

(pdf)

The low building with three beams merely
shelters the body.
It is unbearable to relate the stories
accumulated on the Island slopes.
Wait till the day I become successful and
fulfill my wish!
I will not speak of love when I level
the immigration station.

~ ~

My belly is so full of discontent it is really difficult to relax.
I can only worry silently to myself.
At times I gaze at the cloud- and fog-enshrouded mountain-front.
It only deepens my sadness.

~ ~

The night is cool as I lie stiff on the steel bunk.
Before the window the moon lady shines on me.
Bored, I get up and stand beneath the cold window.
Sadly, I count the time that’s elapsed.
It is already mid-autumn,
We should all honor and enjoy her.
But I have not prepared even the most trifling gift and I feel embarrassed.

~ ~

(pdf)

Originally, I had intended to come to America last year.
Lack of money delayed me until early autumn.
It was on the day that the Weaver Maiden met the Cowherd
That I took passage on the President Lincoln.
I ate wind and tasted waves for more than twenty days.
Fortunately, I arrived safely on the American continent.
I thought I could land in a few days.
How was I to know I would become a prisoner suffering in the wooden building?
The barbarians’ abuse is really difficult to take.
When my family’s circumstances stir my emotions, a double stream of tears flow.
I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon.
Thus sparing me the additional sorrow here.

~ ~

Ox

Instead of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox.
I intended to come to America to earn a living.
The western styled building are lofty; but I have not the luck to live in them.
How was anyone to know that my dwelling place would be a prison.

~ ~

Revenge

Leaving behind my writing brush and removing my sword, I came to America.
Who was to know two streams of tears would flow upon arriving here?
If there comes a day when I will have attained my ambition and become successful,
I will certainly behead the barbarians and spare not a single blade of grass.

~ ~

The sea-scape resembles lichen twisting
and turning for a thousand li.’
There is no shore to land and it is
difficult to walk.
With a gentle breeze I arrived at the city
thinking all would be so.
At ease, how was one to know he was to
live in a wooden building?

~ ~

There are tens of thousands of poems on these walls
They are all cries of suffering and sadness
The day I am rid of this prison and become successful
I must remember that this chapter once existed
I must be frugal in my dailyneeds
Needless extravagance usually leads to ruin
All my compatriots should remember China
Once you have made some small gains,
you should return home early.

Written by one from Heungshan

~ ~

This is a message to those who live here not
to worry excessively.
Instead, you must cast your idle worries to
the flowing stream.
Experiencing a little ordeal is not hardship.
Napoleon was once a prisoner on an island.

~ ~

The wooden hut imprisonment produces nothing but boredom and sadness,
Here I often try to recall how many full moons my home village has had.
While folks at home wait anxiously by the door for my letters day by day,
who could I ask to pass the words of my being alive here to them?

All of us in the wood prison feel the same boredom and sadness,
Here I recall how much hardship we had to endure to come thus far.
Nobody could tell us when we are allowed to get through this pass,
Months and years are wasted in great emptiness and helplessness.

~ ~

3 Comments »

  1. Bud,

    I’d heard of these before. Thanks for posting so many here.

    Reading the first few without use of links, I was startled at the thought of Guantanomo.

    Where will they write,
    with no walls? Press
    fingers to a sanded floor?
    The wind assists our forgetting.

    Micky

    Comment by Micky — June 25, 2006 @ 7:18 pm

  2. Dear Bud,

    Saw that some had come to my blog from yours, so I stopped here to admired the long Chinese style poem about Angel Island. I have, btw, been in a Mexican jail, so that part resonated particularly.

    Thine,

    C. E. Chaffin

    p.s. I added your site to mine.

    Comment by C. E. Chaffin — June 25, 2006 @ 7:33 pm

  3. Hi Micky,

    Thanks for commenting. It is good to see you.

    You touch on a thought I had to look at different types of prisoners writing poetry. Saddam Hussein has taken it up, for instance. But there are poetry programs in prisons all over this country as you know.

    And then there is Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who was apparently taken to Guantanamo Bay by mistake. So in the case of Dost and the Chinese immigrants at Angel Island, there was serious foot dragging with the tragic consequence of lives wasting away. This most likely has plenty to do with the oppressive guard/prisoner mentality that takes over in probably all human beings, and why we need the laws we do for appeals, reviews and prisoners’s rights. The urgency behind the spirit of those laws, and what drives such organizations as Amnesty International, need to be applied from the outset when any kind of prison is established by any governing body for any reason. People need to learn this lesson over and over in history it seems.

    Bud

    ~~~~

    Hi C.E.,

    Very glad you stopped by.

    I purposely did not put any pictures of prisoner’s faces, just the interior and some writing on stone, so the effect may be the voices of the prisoners. Thanks for framing the post as you have.

    What the hell were you doing in a Mexican jail?

    Bud

    Comment by Rus Bowden — June 26, 2006 @ 4:07 am


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