Peter Wu's Poem
snowing today, though the sky’s still blue, a few leaves on
the trees, the last guests who refuse to say to themselves, the
party’s over, it’s time to go home. I’m
thinking of a childhood friend hit by a car while riding his
bike—the driver panicked, stopped, backed her car over him.
How horrible for her: First one thump, hard, abrupt; then another,
There are things that frighten us about the world. Accidents. Serial
killers. Cancer. Terrorists. Childhood.
Peter Wu, smart Chinese kid, top of his class, good athlete, not geeky,
friends with everyone. One of those kids absolutely free of aggression
or malice, a golden child, so much so it always made sense to me he
never lived beyond childhood. At the funeral his parents were
devastated; though they held it together, kept decorum, I saw it in
their faces, that mask of utter anguish, knowing they’d
confront what was missing the rest of their days. In the program they
printed a poem by Peter about a little ghost dancing in a haunted house
on a cold and windy fall day. A day like today.
I remember driving in a car with three friends and they were going over
the disasters of their childhood. One, a Chicana, talked of running
around a schoolyard not looking and smacking her forehead right into
the flagpole—an allegorical touch since her parents were
illegals. The other, of Taiwanese, grew up in a white suburb in New
Jersey and one night some neighborhood brats gassed up a fire behind
her garage and tried to burn her house down. The third talked about the
Lebanese civil war, how at thirteen he held down this outpost all by
himself, fretting he’d run out of ammo for his AK-47.
All of us tossed up our arms, laughing, Okay, Tony, you win.
Thinking about Sun Tzu lately. There’s this whole group of
rappers into The 48 Laws of Power,
samplings from dudes like
Machiavelli and Sun Tzu and my man Matsumoto reduced to four dozen
precepts. Sometimes the rappers see in these laws confirmations of why
they rose up out of the streets; sometimes these are lessons to help
them keep rising, not to get trapped by a certain credo from the hood
which doesn’t recognize the way the world actually works, the
reality of how people react, no matter their culture or history.
Nearing solstice, it gets dark so early now. I don’t like
this time of year cuz it reminds me how old I’ve become, and
I keep wondering how it all passed so quickly. I know it’s a
cliché, but Peter Wu, I can close my eyes and see him,
playing ball with us in that field near my house, and it’s
like he’s still there, like the car never hit him, like his
dad never had to get up at his funeral and read Peter’s poem
about the little ghost.
I spun out on the ice yesterday, twirling a five-forty, on-coming cars
flashing closer in slow motion and blinding snow. No thoughts of loved
ones. Then the wheels gripped, I veered off the road.
I’m never going to die.
Compared to Tony, I’m just a child. Never been in a fist
fight or come close to killing even a goat or chicken. Some Rumsfeld or
Cheney, some grunt or CIA ops, they’ve sussed those ancient
manuals, doped the new ones too. They know it’s a dog eat dog
world; we’ve got to raise some pit bulls if us French poodles
aren’t going to get ripped to pieces by those Al Qaeda
Dobermans. A guy like Khalid Sheikh or al-Zarqawi, blading Danny
Pearl’s head, slipping into Fallujah with utter glee, like a
conventioneer off to Vegas? Hell, they’d devour me like
slices of sushi, hack my nuts in a heartbeat, and I got to gall to say
I don’t want our Hooh-ha grunts hunting in Iraq?
(Neville Chamberlain be damned.) I use this as consolation. All my
The following is not
Top Dog, underdog, which would you rather be? Our lost boy, our lost
boy. I am the designated mourner, this is how it goes: The soldiers get
their homecoming, only it’s a long way off. Here’s
to the world. Playland, vice, greed; the three little pigs. A roll of
the dice. Melting ice. Red light, green light. That is no country. That
is no civil war. Graceland. Dance, dance, dance. Our white toothy smile
shining in the cosmos. We are not alone. Oh the enigma, the arrival,
the fortress. 9-11/Ak-47. Deep in the soul’s code. Not. Not
Thursday, Dec. 6, a cold cold day. Blackness out my window. Temperature
zipping far below freezing. Arctic wind. Glad I have heat, you know.
Glad the oil’s flowing. Glad I can write these lines of a
boyhood friend, his farewell poem about a ghost.