A small drama in one act

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A cup of tea, a window seat,
An afternoon dialogue.

The scene opens on a sparse set,
My gaze left behind in rapt posture.
Words like moving pictures pass me;
I play myself in tragedy.

Are you all alone where you are

Longing gently touches him.
If I’m not here
where am I?
If I’m not me
who am I?

 

Vancouver, 1991

Text and artwork ©Lena Tan 1991/2016

Woman with attitude

Seal script character Ying

Seal script for Ying, surname of the ruling house of Qin

Lady Ying of Qin

Lady Ying was a daughter of Duke Mu of Qin (reigned 659 – 620 BCE). She is one of the few women mentioned in the Zuo zhuan, or Zuo Commentary, written around the 4th century BCE, a chronological collection of narratives about the feudal states of China during the later Zhou dynasty (the Spring and Autumn Period 春秋 770 – 476 BCE). The Zuo zhuan paints her as a confident, assertive woman, even if she does not escape the restrictive role given to her by society and the deprecatory comments of the male actors in it. When I began reading the Zuo zhuan, this representation of women as complex characters in their own right was a pleasant surprise, given the strength of the patriarchal dominance of the history and literature of the age. Lady Ying’s story tells us a little bit about one woman from a period that tells us very little about women. In this excerpt, Lady Ying speaks her mind to two lords of the powerful state of Jin, the second of whom is soon to become the famous Duke Wen, hegemon of the feudal lords of the states.

In 645 BCE, Duke Mu, ruler of the state of Qin, attacked and defeated the army of the state of Jin. Duke Mu captured Duke Hui, the ruler of Jin, but allowed Duke Hui to return to Jin in exchange for his son and heir, the Taizi (“designated heir”) Yu.

In the summer (of 643 BCE), the Taizi Yu of Jin became a hostage in Qin. Duke Mu of Qin gave him as wife his daughter Lady Ying.

夏 . 晉 大 子 圉 為 質 於 秦 . 秦 歸 河 東 而 妻 之 .

Yu planned to escape and said to Lady Ying, “Will you return home with this gentleman?”

將 逃 歸 . 謂 嬴 氏 曰 . 與 子 歸 乎 .

She replied, “You, sir, are the Taizi of Jin and you are shamed in Qin. If you, sir, wish to return home, is that not appropriate? But my unworthy lord (her father, Duke Mu of Qin) appointed this handmaid to wait on you holding towel and comb, so as to be your firm support. If I follow you in returning home, I will abandon my lord’s command. I dare not follow you, but I also dare not speak to anyone of this.” So he escaped and went home.

對 曰 . 子 . 晉 大 子 . 而 辱 於 秦 . 子 之 欲 歸 . 不 亦 宜 乎 . 寡 君 之 使 婢 子 侍 執 巾 櫛 . 以 固 子 也 . 從 子 而 歸 . 棄 君 命 也 . 不 敢 從 . 亦 不 敢 言 . 遂 逃 歸 .

In 637 BCE, Duke Hui of Jin died and Yu took the throne. Chong-er, Duke Hui’s half-brother, had been exiled from Jin. He had been travelling from state to state seeking support from their rulers, and was now making his way to Jin to claim the throne.

In Qin, Duke Mu presented him with five women, among whom was Lady Ying. One day, she served him with a basin of water for washing. When he was done, he waved her away. She was angry and said, “Qin and Jin are equals. Why do you disparage me?” The Gongzi (“son of a duke”) was afraid and lowered his robes like a captive.

秦 伯 納 女 五 人 . 懷 嬴 與 焉 . 奉 匜 沃 盥 . 既 而 揮 之 . 怒 曰 . 秦 晉 匹 也 . 何 以 卑 我 . 公 子 懼 . 降 服 而 囚 .

In spring of 636 BCE, Chong-er entered Jin. He sent his people to kill Yu and, with the help of Duke Mu of Qin, took the throne of Jin. He is known posthumously as Duke Wen.

Duke Wen of Jin went to meet his wife Lady Ying and they returned home. Duke Mu of Qin gave to Jin three thousand functionaries who would serve in the institutions of the government.

晉 侯 逆 夫 人 嬴 氏 以 歸 . 秦 伯 送 衛 於 晉 三 千 人 . 實 紀 綱 之 僕 .

Read the rest of the story of Lady Ying.

© Lena Tan 2016. If you quote from this translation, please credit me and reference my website.

Climate Change Chronicles #1

fractal sunsetThis was written in 2007 when a prospect appeared for a collaborative art project on climate change. Nothing, however, happened, except for more weather.


There was a blinding flash. All I could see were streaks of coloured light and the Transsiberian click-clacking into the horizon. “W-a-a-a-i-t,” I shouted. “There’s something I have to tell y-o-u-u-u-u.”

As I stared into the fractal sunset, gigantic flakes of velvety snow began to fall. In the uncanny silence, a single thought punched like a can opener into my resisting mind. Al Gore — Al Gore is back!*

I tried fruitlessly to start her motorcycle. While I was pumping like a demon, a semitrailer pulled up beside me.

The driver’s eyes gleamed in his dark face under a black sombrero. “Where you wanna go?” he asked. I pointed wordlessly down the lone highway.

“Put the bike in the back and get in.”

I hoisted the bike into the insulated trailer full of strawberries and climbed into the cab beside the driver. Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto pounded from the speakers as the truck raced into the driving snow and gathering dusk.

I tried to gather my random thoughts and shape them into a recognizable form. Al Gore — on a television screen.*

Jazz notes began to fill the glasslike clarity of the night.


* This line is changed from the original. Al Gore was interviewed on CBC’s National news on July 09, 2015.

Of dreams and the remains of memories

Brain research tells us that when people start losing their memories, emotional memory is the most persistent. I didn’t know that when I wrote the following. Or perhaps I did know it and have forgotten.

Aug. 16, 1998

She remembers the twelve-year-old sleeping on the cot beside hers – warm, brown, and breathing loudly. But he’s gone, long gone. This stranger coming in now, carnations in one hand, a mason jar in the other, this tall stranger with the strong brown arms – who is he?

She remembers to smile: her mouth smiles, anyway. She asks what he’s been up to. Somewhere in that conversation, there is a spark, a remembrance of laughter, from mouth to eyes to brain to heart – the heart is another muscle and needs to be exercised.

It’s eight o’clock and the visitors are leaving. He leans over the bed and reaches his arms around her. He pats her on the back and she holds herself up straight. “I’ll try to come again. I’ll come again,” he says. “See you, mom.”

This stranger is gone, but the boy, where did he go?

Dark Queen

There was a time when I was still using Windows95 and hooked on Freecell.

April 7, 1998

Kid: Mom?

Mom: Hey hon.

K: Were you talking to yourself?

M: Why do you say that?

K: Let me put it this way. Stop talking to yourself. It’s scaring me.

M: I’m not talking to myself.

K: Well, you’re talking to somebody and I don’t see anyone.

M: All right. I’m talking to the computer.

K: And it’s talking to you?

M: Well, yeah. See, the Queen of Spades is….

K: Now you’re really scary.

M: Go back to bed.

K: How come I don’t get to play so late?

M: ‘Cause you have to go to school.

K: Mom, tomorrow’s a P.D. day.

M: ‘Cause you’re a kid.

K: Yeah? Well, you’re crazy.

M: Go to bed. We’ll talk in the morning.

K: It is morning.

M: Go to bed.

K: Only if you stop talking to yourself.

M: OK – go…. Now where was I?

K: I can hear you!

Must work to free the Queen. The Queen speaks when freed, gives advice on critical issues. “Invalid parameters. Try again.” Losing streak: the Queen can’t be freed; life falls apart. “Fatal error. This program is closing because of invalid input.” Students are macho, racist. Boyfriend becoming verbally abusive. “Enter user-defined string.”

Driving home after dinner with parents.

K: Mom, are you watching the road?

M: Aaaa… yeah, I’m watching the road.

K: The Queen of Spades isn’t here you know.

M: Yeah, I know.

Sad Pigeon Story

July 15, 1998

A pigeon, bald, smooth and shiny. Stick legs, walking on the paving stones at the side of the house, hurrying along ahead of me, stopping, then hurrying as I come up with my bucket, garden gloves and shovel. It stops when I stop to dig and pull. It moves away when I approach. Looks at me, walks into the plants, trying to keep its distance, a little hop and flutter, pit pit pitta. It reaches the front yard, doubles around and hurries to the back, sidelong glances at me digging and pulling. I go back with the bucket. It looks at me, head bobbing, skip, hop and flutter. It seems to like being on the paving beside the house, but it has to keep moving as I go back and forth with bucket, shovel, clippers and trowel.

Later, I hear voices outside the house. Two kids are looking under a parked car as other cars pass by. The pigeon pit-pats into the road, and the kids chase it back. They’re trying to catch it so it won’t get run over. But it’s under the car and the kids go away.

The next day I’m coming home from the gym and there’s a small smear with feathers on the road.

Red

The red of the chrysanthemums on my desk is as red as… as red as… as the red of the chrysanthemums. The ones before had some orange in the red. These have some blue in the red. I can’t stop looking at them. Looking at them, I can only feel the joy of redness.