His poem, “Halt X,” in our Arts in Asia folio unveiled itself while I was on the phone with my Vietnamese girlfriend. She doesn’t write poetry. Doesn’t read much with the exception of Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks. She asked about Drunken Boat, about what I do there, about how to understand poetry.
I told her that Drunken Boat was like a zoo. That I was an entry-level food prep for the elephant seals. And that poetry is like a tiger at the zoo.
“What?” she said. “Speak English.”
“They are afraid,” I said. “Afraid but intrigued. Tigers are rare. Exotic. Misunderstood. The visitors want to get close but they can’t. It’s dangerous. A voice, like a tiger, bites. Still, people travel from around the world to look and point and listen. They say, ‘Look at that! It’s a tiger!’ They will press their heads against the glass and pause.” Apparently, that wasn’t English enough.
She spoke of being quiet in English class. Her reading of a poem was always so different from the teacher or other students that she thought she was, “wrong.” The result was a silence. A silence that still pervades today. Right now, over the telephone, she is still silent and I am out of ideas so I read Halt X by Jussawalla. Adil Jussawalla – my savior.
I read it like I’ve been reading it my entire life. I evoke the senses of “danger,” of, “disquietude.” I reach deep for “pieces of smoke,” and stretch towards, “drizzling doors.” I am patient. With tender feet, I am, “sliding edgeways through the dawn’s widening slats.” My voice becomes a, “flock of pigeons dissolved in the viscid air.”
“These words are like food,” she said. “I even feel full. Like after having a large meal.”
Now I was silent. Surely, Jussawalla did not intend to have a second generation, Vietnamese dental student as his audience. Yet, “like a piece of mud in a current,” one can never be certain how far downstream a poem will travel, where it might settle down, with whom, or for how long. I’m confident that Jussawalla is aware of this sentiment. When he writes, he writes for the world – for the world will undoubtedly see him when they happen upon him during their visit.
A tiger at the zoo.
The next day, we found ourselves in Chinatown in Philadelphia for lunch. We ordered a locally renowned specialty – roasted pigeon.
By Brett Haymaker, editorial assistant at Drunken Boat.
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