While in New Hope, Pa., the other weekend, I stepped inside the cheerfully cluttered independent, Farley’s Bookshop. I love “real” bookstores and Farley’s has got its scruffy act down pat. In the lively, dusty rooms filled with book-lover’s delights, I found racks devoted to small, independent publishers that Farley’s believes are publishing some of the most important and vibrant writing in the country.
Among the racks were a few shelves devoted to the hip-sounding Brooklyn publisher of poetry, Hanging Loose Press, and my hand involuntarily reached out to purchase Wreckage, a book of poetry by the Chinese-American National Book Award winner, Ha Jin.
Ha Jin’s novel, Waiting, is easily one of the best books I read in the course of the last decade. Its haunting, true-to-life elegance is still with me years after I read it. However, after reading the Collected Poems of the Irish grandmaster, John Montague, Ha Jin’s poetry comes off a little clunky. The poetry of Waiting is, oddly, missing here. But Ha Jin’s poems are still fascinating in their own right, particularly when you remember he is writing in a language he learned later in life.
Among the laments against the brutality of the Chinese Communist authorities, for example, I came across a hair-raising poem called, “Cleansing The Body.” It’s about how a boy’s father and uncle ritualistically get him drunk and cut off his penis and balls, a sacrificial offering to the family’s ambition. Harrowing stuff. I leave you with the poem’s last two stanzas:
Father had fried my genitals,
wrapped them in a piece of waxed paper,
and put them in a lacquered box
which sits on a beam in our roof.
That’s his way to wish
for my rise in court.
Last week a senior eunuch said
my nine-year-old privates
could join me only in my grave.