Cliterati in Mongolia Redux 209 Part V

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ming
(Part V of The Poem That Still Speaks: an Essay on the Poetics of Political Exile)

Tumen's niece and her brother arrived during breakfast. I could see Tumen in his nephew's eyes. The nephew was twenty according to himself, nineteen according to his sister. He put mutton in his milky tea; she put cheese in hers. She was, of course, perfect, hair in a swept side ponytail.
As a matter of decent of form rather than rebellion--
Formed a heaven of what he stole from the abyss.


I own I don't edit my texts as well as I should before making them available, but some of the grammatical/editorial mistakes are actually intentional. Example: "Would they have taken him into that van if he had attempted to return to his wife and daughter." The padded throne of textual space (here we go again, English and its movement) allows me this method of driving home (ditto) an emotional point (ha!). On the page, i.e. in the land of mimicry, I can mimic a question that does not turn up at the end--many languages do not turn up their questions at the end, including Mongolian. In these houses of questions and constructions of politics, pages are freedom-spaces and also very weak--hence, and bring on the metaphor (bring it: bring it from there to here)--the oft-used comparison of thin walls to paper.
Should I be surprised, then, that conversations with a tender ghost over wires during my year in Asia enabled my friend to turn into that ghost without my knowing it? That they allowed my friend's husk to leave the story out about just how much of a ghost, just how dead and gone (from here to a there I can't see) my friend was? Just how forced out of my best friend I had been, and would continue for long painful months to be. Tumen has adjusted to the idea that protection is fleeting. Should I be surprised that at physical approximation, the tree under which I took shelter, the well I used to drink from, was poisoned?

What if
a man went into his house and leaned his hand
against the wall and the wall
was not?


When Tumen and his wife lived together, did they hurt each other? Did they fight? What does the strain of exile do. Is abstraction the worst kind of decoy. Is it more toxic to meet and cause pain where love once lived, or to leave that stone unturned and continue as the ballerina rehearsing every moment for a recital she'll never give--in the case of Tumen and his wife, the chance to live together again in bodily proximity.
Better than any description of buildings or garments,,
The theory of a city, a poem,
With iron and stone edifices, ceaseless vehicles,
Ship and towered city are nothing,
Stripped of men alive within it, living as one.


Tumen's niece and nephew took me back to the museum, to the 3rd floor displays of song and dance traditions and hilarious Chinese translations. A sunny day outside, a day that took forever to get started--the niece's knock was assimilated into my dream as someone knocking on a car window--to lunch where they kept ladling food out of the hotpot and I realized I just had to say no thank you and let the food pile up, all green and the beer opening like a gunshot. The teacher who ate with us knew enough English to explain the train back to Mongolia to me: first a ten hour layover then a four or five hour one. I told them I would sleep and read during the ten hour layover rather than disturbing the doctor and his family again; they wouldn't hear of it but I was adamant. That evening Eej fried up our leftover green beans with meat and rice. It's not good to eat alone, she says, exactly as Tumen had before, in another country, down to the very inflection.

On the way home from the park, T shirts hanging, people eating at barbeque stands. Tumen calls Eej while we're walking but something is wrong with the cell phones. I kept thinking of the word trick Godisnowhere. She insisted on coming to the park. I had wanted to go run alone instead of being pulled and cattled--we saw a movie and I let her pull me along after, trying to adjust for a few hours to the closeness and steering. She wanted to change my mind about the train layover. I live alone in Mongolia, I said, to which her response was that my ten hour layover would be me alone in China. The park had it all, teenagers playing ball and a group of middle aged powerwalkers. Young hip couples wrapping arms about each other, girls with mullets, girls in skinny jeans. I used to come here with Tumen Ulzii, she said. We would walk for an hour together every night around this time and talk.
Picking out our way through verbs and ruins,

That single idle word blown from mind to mind.

Tumen called the apartment, and when I talk to Tumen on the phone my voice always goes up a register. He asks if the trip was good, if she was feeding me. No actually, it's possible that I don't remember what he asked, I only know what he would ask, given the small pool of words I could understand.

His blood began again, talking and talking.
Did the letters work upon his blood?


What did you talk about? I asked fifteen minutes later after I jogged the track while she walked it. His writing, she says. Literature. In the little sector of woods between the university buildings and the apartment buildings in which she lived and Tumen used to live, she wended through the trees only to turn at the curb and enter them again. I uncovered what I half-felt before, of my role is as medium, that there was no experience I had that year that was not to write about--though that's not exactly right--god did the air smell good on that little path--

Is reform needed? Is it through you?

I did what human beings do instinctively when They are driven to utter extremity—looked For aid to one higher than man.


A cheerleader-style gaggle of girls, teens on the bleachers, two on the track learning to rollerblade. She walked, looking back periodically to check on me as I stretched. I asked if I could look at the vigil underway in the center of the loop of track. Fewer candles than yesterday; flags back up from half-mast.
The breastlike, floral air is the bloody tribute we had paid that harsh, brutal singer
at the deadest hours of the night.
At each stroke blood spurts from the roots.


A girl approached shyly in fits and starts with two lit candles to where Eej and I stood at a distance. Please come, she says to me, little with big eyes.
Eyes going and going,
A swirl of it, nerves and clots,
Can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, Perhaps as no symphony can.


The students all looked like Williamsburg hipsters, leggings, mullets, and all. They sang a Chinese nationalist song. Didn’t realize how scarce foreigners were in Hohhot. They were agricultural university students. After I joined the circle I saw that the candles set upon the ground on top of Dixie cups spelled something, but I didn't know any Chinese besides thank you, so when the kids speaking and holding papers said something about me I didn’t know until all dark eyes turned my way. A tall boy came and stood next to me when the pixie girl couldn't quite understand me nor I her. "Say what you feel, about the earthquake," he said. "I am here to--" I began in a small voice "--Speak to everyone," he encouraged. I looked up at the eyes. "I am here to honor the spirits of the dead and grieve with you," I said. "Thank you," they said together. We stood holding our candles in our dixie cups.

Whatever is neglected slips away.
You elements that clip us round about,
All sent back by the echoes:
Heaven has always chosen the time.
No message plucked from the birds, the embers.
Always a knit of identity,
The moon had opened a blue field in the sky.


The next morning the niece took me out again. In the park, crowded with people and children for whom many empty kiddie-rides trundled round and round, incredible amounts of pollen tufts fell and drifted along like piano notes. A girl sang her heart out in the very corner of the park, next to piles and piles of shingles. A little boy fished in a shallow pool. Haughty looks from those power walkers. Less than 48 there in Hohhot; it took longer than I spent there to train there and back, listening to the groan of wheels on track as the lines coursed through me, looped an infinite number of times.

All times mischoose.


The night I left Eej and her niece stood outside the train window, as did the families of the other three passengers in our compartment. We crowded round. One of my compartment companions looked immediately to me like a band member--the loose half open shirt, the shaggy hair longer in back--and I would feel worse about profiling him if I hadn't turned out to be right. He was an opera singer, actually, coming to Ulaanbaatar for a show. A man with a cigarette in his mouth and similar hair and face to the opera singer came to the window, grinning.
"Your little brother?" I asked.
"Yes."
Somewhere in this train car was a former student of Eej's. When she said she was a geography teacher, she explained that she teaches what people of different regions eat, wear, (here they have sheep, she gives as an example, but in Argentina they don't, because it's too hot). Her student came in where I was miserable in my just woke up and unable to move state--had no sense of the hour; we were in the huge warehouse where they change the bogeys on the bottom of the train at the Mongolia-China border and the clangs resounded.

The boss was dead, the mistress nervous and the cradle already split.
Where’s my voice? Where are all these corpses from,
Scattering too some heavy Unwelcome thoughts that were beginning to throng on my solitude?

They all slept as my body trundled along with them to Tumen and a land of relative freedom of speech. Sunrise all to myself. Had seen the pink along the horizon for a while, then the gold bar, milking around flush with the horizon. I fished around in the cardboard box Eej packed with a week's worth of food for me, hoping to find that one apple. When I looked up again the sun was a rectangle of gold light with rounded corners. I watched it detach like an egg from an ovary under a microscope as in that video kids in some countries are made to watch. Burns on my retina exact as hole puncher detritus. Realized after a while of staring at it that I could only to so because the sun-spot of burn had layered over what I stared at.

Had I written the right things down? What to absorb but impressions, since information was dependent on time (too short) and a knowledge of the habits of Chinese authority (nonexistent) and a cultural sensitivity to journalistic questioning, not to mention language barriers? I abandoned the effort; the one fact I knew was that she needed someone. Someone there in the warm flesh. By the end I leaned into her and waited to be taken along by the elbow.

What do you do when you fall far from help? Night doesn’t fall. Left to myself I abandoned myself:
I think the sun where he was born drew all such humours from him,
For he only holds a candle in the sunshine.


Before falling asleep the grandpa of the compartment asked me to sing. They'd tossed back a few, I think, this motley crew of new friends. They really were strangers at the outset of this journey, but by morning they were all getting off the train together to eat-, buying each other and me tarag and water, and in Erlian, big boxes of fruit because fruit was so much cheaper there than in Ulaanbaatar. The opera singer, who refused to sing last night now was humming in headphones, looking down at sheet music. Everyone took off to eat in the sunshine. The doors to the train station were set to open at 2pm, and by 130 there were mountains of canvas bags and boxes in front of the station doors and a long line of passengers waiting sensibly in the shade of the line of trees across the parking lot. Bright geometric shapes, wider roads than Ulaanbaatar, actual intersections.
Intersections, coincidentally, are one of my favorite metaphors once they make the leap from the outer world to the inner one.
I couldn't wait to see Tumen and show him the photos I had taken of his family, couldn't wait for him to make the leap from the inner world of my mind to the Outer world of his hell, Ulaanbaatar. I was selfish in that way, perhaps. It wasn't my hell. My hell would take another year to darken the walls of my mind. In his lectures Professor Weinstein said with great feeling that a central message to the texts he used, the texts that buoyed me through the hell of the heart surgery waiting room vigil and which buoy me now as I do my best to bury the tender ghost I loved who disappeared--during the phone call when I realized the voice didn't belong to my friend anymore the professor's words came back to me--"the prison in which you live is of your own devising"--

The thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck. You won’t hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it.

And, with respect to my situation, not Tumen's, he might be right. There is a core selfhood that should not be given out to another body, since the self within that body might disappear without its husk disappearing as well. But love dissolves the plexiglass, which is why hissing and swearing hurts more when it comes out of a body that used to house a friend--it goes right in. I crouched sobbing with my phone to my ear at the corner of 103rd and Broadway, clear in the all-clicking-into-place that around that time last year, when I went to Hohhot, my friend had died but I'd kept thinking my friend was in there somewhere, looking for him and getting hurt every time I did, and I will always prefer to have sobbed rather than swear and hiss back at the stranger who took over the husk.
It is very late in the day to offer me your tears.
Now about setting you free: I cannot fall because there is no room to.


The trick to this burial, I think, it to recognize the presentation of self as a vessel of words into which I poured love--love that was nonetheless real. Recognize that if there weren't something real about that which is presented with words, language may never have evolved. Of course anything dependent on language (like a correspondence over wires by two selves inside bodies separated either, as in Tumen's case, by force, or in my case, by the choice of one) is bound by its limits. How can I grieve for my best friend when the physical subject-markers that humans use to melt plexiglass with those they trust are still there: face, eyes, hands. My related question: What is the psychology of adjustment for exiles. Did Tumen need, on some level, to bury his wife in order to move forward in his life without her, even as he knew there was a (smaller and smaller) chance they'd be together for longer than a week again?
It is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear,
To say: be kinder to yourself.
Rescue yourself, your city, rescue me—
Rescue everything infected by the dead.


"Prison", "torture," and "exile" are big catch-words in a vocabulary ridden with them. Power and authority are endemic to the English language, of course, but the same is true of language in general. I escaped upstairs in the train station, since I had no physical cargo besides my body, which was equipped with the right paper. A windowless, customerless duty-free shop up there, all cigarettes and booze. While the anthill subsided downstairs I talked with a friendly Australian about how my desire to learn Chinese had subsided once I realized the rote memorization necessary to learn an alphabetless language.
How can I say things that are pictures:
How could you leave the crime uncleansed so long?


We stopped in Zamin Uud and none of the Australians knew what kimchi was--this was after the dominatrix train employee ordered people off their bunks when she looked at their passports. It was the hour it grew dark, so after paying the dollar-to-use bathroom on the central square similar to one in a central Mexican town, we wandered away. Split level buildings that reminded me of my hometown in California, young people hanging out on the stoops. We found a square brown brick building with a karaoke room and a bar in the basement, a supermarket and a restaurant on the ground floor, and a kid's playground on the second floor. When we left it was dark, 8pm, and I saw the slim silhouette of a child watching us from a second-floor window.

The earth abode of stones in the great deeps,
the only name I have for you, that, no other—ever, ever, ever!


By now my dishonesty, I hope, is obvious. Obvious that on the level that matters--as in, physical matter! metaphor, will conceptualization ever be free of you?--but anyway, obvious that on the level that matters, there are no poetics to exile. Not the exile which is not metaphorical. Discourse is shredded as easily as paper when it comes (comes. from here to there.) to these issues: there are no heroes in this text, there is no perfection, and Tumen's story isn't finished. My myopia is equally as obvious, I'm sure. But I try to be kind to myself: metaphor evolved perhaps because it is inextricably intertwined with empathy. If I did not have my own admittedly small-minded story of dislocation and estrangement from a beloved other, of grief, with which to enter Tumen's narrative through one of its many holes, I perhaps would have noticed less of what was important. I treated Eej to the ever-rare trip to a cinema. We saw the animated flick Iron Man. Her delight at going to the movies and her hand steering my elbow: that was important. When Tumen picked me up from the train and made sure I got home, when we met up later and he said for the second time to the word exactly what his wife had said days before, in another country (that of memory, now) 5pm honey light lighting up the sun of his face: It's not good to eat alone.

That was important.

In rooms of selfhood where we woke and lay watching today unfold like yesterday, we had to take the world as it was given. The human rose to haunt us
everywhere, raw, flawed, and asking more than we could bear.
(How was it we were caught?)




--MH, May 2009

(Extensive apologies to, let's see: Agee, Beckett, Blake, Dickinson, Gander, Morrison, Rich, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Whitman...)
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