Carolyn Wing Greenlee

Lunar Call

••• Lunar Call •••

Lunar Call

The moon rolls around
and the seeds go Yes!
the bulbs go Yes!
the trees go Yes!
The moon rolls around
and the earth says Yes!
at least
in my part of the world

The moon rolls around
and the seeds wake up
the trees wake up
the bulbs start to push
The moon rolls around
and the grass pricks up
at least
in my part of the world

The blossoms start
and the buds nub out
even if the winds lash the branches bare
“It’s time”
they say
“and we must obey
the stir
the urge
the Grow”

and the seeds pop up
the blossoms roll
the green shows up
everywhere
and the flowers come
wild flowers come
at least
in my part of the world

••••••

The Reason for the Last Line

There was a time in the 1990s when the Gold Rush was being celebrated in California. A big traveling exhibit was circulating among museums up and down the state. I saw it first in San Francisco, and about a year later in Southern California at the Ontario Museum of History and Art. To my utter delight, a big part of the exhibit was dedicated to the Chinese contribution to California through their skills and knowledge. The public was fascinated.

After many years of being shunned and ridiculed for being Chinese, I suddenly found myself a popular speaker on the Chinese American experience. So there I was, an insider after spending most of my life on the other side.

It seemed wherever I was speaking, so was Charlie Chin—a brusque, articulate, artful, scholarly and outspoken New Yorker. Charlie was part of the “History Alive” program, a Chautauqua produced by the California Council for the Humanities. He portrayed Yee Fung Cheung, a famous herb doctor who came to California in 1850 to treat Chinese miners. My father was enthralled by Charlie’s presentation. His own father had been a successful herb doctor in Modesto just a little later in that period in history.

I remember quite clearly sitting with Charlie on the couch at the Ontario Museum. I had just finished my presentation and his would begin shortly—a perfect opportunity to get to know him better, but I reasoned that he was probably tired of being besieged by the public even in his rest time. How would he react to yet another stranger plopping down beside him to get to know him better?

To my delight, Charlie welcomed a chance to chat with another descendant from a Gold Rush era family. We had much in common. I was feeling comfortable, the way you do when you’re with cousins even if you haven’t met them before. There’s something in shared heritage that gives you commonality. I was enjoying the conversation immensely until I said something about how, in the long run, all races are alike.

Charlie exploded. “Oh, come on! You sound like one of those bleeding heart…” He paused, then added more softly, “but I know you’re not.” I was too shocked to continue my thought. I’d never met a New York Chinatown Chinese. He was very different from the Chinese I knew in California. I didn’t know what to say.

What I intended to say next was that all of us, regardless of race, ultimately face the same things. Death, for example. It levels all of us. Grief. Aging parents. Illness. Loss. We suffer. We cry. That’s the universal, and I don’t believe even Charlie would disagree that, in those ways, we are all the same.

To this day, that violent reaction from Charlie rings in my ears whenever I’m tempted to speak for the Chinese. I now qualify my remarks, saying that I am not an expert on the entirety of the Chinese American experience, but I can speak confidently about my own family.

On the other hand, I reacted violently when a fellow poet criticized my poem about the house in the country my father had given me. “You’ve ignored the disenfranchised,” he shot. “What about the other millions of poor that don’t have houses?” That, too, was shocking. I was writing about a personal experience. I wasn’t trying to make a social comment about all the other people on the earth. Isn’t that my privilege as a writer—to share my unique vision and perspective? Isn’t that how we come to understand one another more authentically?

From those two experiences I distilled this thought: No matter how real your spring may be, on the other side of the world (or the top or the bottom), it’s a different season. But for you, regardless of what the weather is like for those who live elsewhere, your season is vibrant and burgeoning, and yours to share. That is your right as a poet, an artist, a human being. Hence, the last line in the poem.

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