DeWitt Clinton – Three Adaptations of Chu Shu Chen

After Running in Light Rain Along the Lakefront,

I Rest with Chu Shu Chen’s “Plaint”

Our day lilies droop
In the July heat.
We could flood our old forest
With water lilies and white sail boats.
As long as there’s a lakefront
I’ll probably run back and forth.
I’ve made friends with so many
Birds of colored wings.

On a Shabbos August Afternoon I Calmly

Read “Hysteria” by Chu Shu Chen

The chubby face is a bit
More chiseled, maybe even too
Sunken, in places, now.
When a big wind blows
Across the Lake I try to
Batten down what almost flies away.
Soon I will not even
Be who I could have been,
But the weight of old sorrows keeps
Me right inside my grief.
Yellow crested chickadees fly right
Outside in our little forest.
My eyes have even
Started to bulge out a bit.
I’m almost like a
Trunk with lichen up and down.
Sleep comes so little
Now I no longer dream
Who I was before I killed.
I wake up in darkness
Just before light comes to the Lake.
There’s still so much to do.
Tonight we’ve made a cold
Meal and dine with bright Italian lights.
Neighbors smile at our little love affair.
In the forest the white
Russian pine waves all night.
We’ve turned our home into a little
Heaven with creatures who mosey
Up with their glassy eyes on us.
Soon we’ll have a waning moon.

In a Waiting Room by the Lake I Take Up

Chu Shu Chen’s “Stormy Night in Autumn”

After the storm that nearly swept our
Village away, we’re still soaking up
The creeks that entered our old basement.
I still hate the monsoons
That poured so long in Vietnam.
My old feet feel more and more
As if lead was pouring
Through all that is inside.
Someone’s sobbing wakes me up before sunrise.
A painted face cheers us both.
Sometimes I think the night might
Just leave us in the dark.
We’d have just the wind
Blowing in on us huddled and deep beneath.
We’re both more thin than ever
But not quite nimble as bamboo.
We’re on the toilet more for longer runs.
Someday the rain will stop
Before it rises to our old windows.
Outside we hear the drops
Land on each green
Leaf we’ve ever known.

Author’s Statement on Beauty

Of course everything in Florence is beautiful, or that’s the way I remember it, as even the tiny little espresso shops with only a chair or two were just as pleasing as anything in the Uffizi. Why not? Why would we ever think art is beautiful, or at least most of it, and human affairs, well, are just human. When I try to think of something or someone that or who is not beautiful, I’m stumped. Why is the ugliest dog in the world still beautiful and so appreciated? Can’t beauty be found in gestures of kindness, or appreciation? Of course the Grand Canyon is beautiful, especially if you walk all the way down and appreciate it as you try to walk all the way back up. I took a photograph of an M-16 round, not fired, when trying out my new camera in a bunker somewhere in what was then South Vietnam. The picture was a still life of course, no flowers, no fruit. But it had some beauty in the composition, or at least I’d like to think so. But when something is torn, ripped asunder, with irreparable damage, something that makes us look away, or weep, or become enraged for what has occurred, somewhere, close by or afar, well, nothing beautiful there, but why then do writers, filmmakers, painters, musicians, actors, sometimes make art out of what is horrifying? Thedor Adorno once wrote nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch no art after Auschwitz, but most of the memorable art, that which is beautiful, is the art made after Auschwitz. But how can any photograph or video of Aleppo be beautiful after what was ruined? But walking through ancient ruins often awakens what we want to think is beautiful, even if horror and madness occurred “in theater” in The Coliseum. Or a few steps from The Coliseum, you can stand under the Arch of Titus, and see bas relief images of the defeated Israelites and symbols of their Temple. Art? Tragedy? Memory? Okay, my toenails may not be beautiful as I’ve watched them age and turn yellow with a feisty fungus, and they may not be beautiful, but to the coroner someday, maybe that’s what she will notice. Look at these? Look at these toenails! So what do we call beauty, and what do we call something or someone that or who is not beautiful? I’m reassured that beauty can be found in almost everything, depending on our focus, even if what we are looking at is the Buddhist affirmation of a lotus flower blooming out of stinky mud. Beauty does transform us, but it also fades, as the memory of the most beautiful ballet performance is harder and harder to remember as the years go by. As artists, we all hope our work will attain a level of Beauty, but we also need to prepare ourselves, that beautiful or not, the art we make will eventually dissolve into nothingness, sooner than later if someone’s finger is hovering over the “launch” button. It’s just a matter of time, which is another matter.

New poems by DeWitt Clinton have appeared this year in Negative Capability, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Verse-Virtual, and New Verse News. He has retired from teaching at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, and lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin.