Chapter I: Arrival in Beijing

Inspired by real events

 

Sing to me, Muse, who flies through Heaven’s realms,
Sing of that night when terror swept the land
And peaceful practitioners of Falun Gong
Were made to live in fear, their practice banned.
What was it like to know tomorrow’s sun
May set on your life completely changed?
You could be jailed and tortured, dead or worse
For you, your family punished, then estranged.

There gathered in a tiny home in Beijing
Were ten practitioners who’d come from afar
They were a flurry of chopsticks and talk.
They had traveled many days by car,
A tightly cramped van that one used for work;
They had meditated on bumpy road,
And now their discipline and peace paid off,
Excited, relieved of the journey’s long load.
Hot steaming noodles, smiles now flew to mouths
And elegant chopsticks in patterned bowls
That made a joyful feast and meeting place;
The four who lived there were friendly souls.
Indeed, the driver’s cousin owned the home;
The driver was Kai Li, a man of strength,
Who drove the van of practitioners there,
All night he’d stretched his mind to painful length,
And now he seemed as if he won a war,
A radiant glow upon his noble face,
Emerging after straining long and hard;
His fighting fierceness now replaced by grace
As he returns to camp addressing troops;
Like knights and archers listening to their king,
So too they stopped eating, grew solemn, still,
and Kai addressed them all, his words had wings:

“Tomorrow we go to Tiananmen Square,
Appealing there for our practice’s name,
So that the lies will stop, prisoners released,
The nation will redress this horrible shame.
We’ll take our banners with us right at dawn,
And walk the Square to find the perfect spot,
It has to be somewhere we’ll all be seen,
We’ll show the bold and peaceful hearts we’ve got.
And many more’ll be there, I’m sure of that,
Our banners shining Buddha’s splendid light,
Into each crack and corner it will shine,
Illuminating propaganda’s night.
To cousin, thanks for hosting us at home,
I know it’s ‘cause you give us your support,
You are a fellow student of the Way,
and know that protest is our last resort.
As practitioners your family too should come,
You can’t sit by at such a crucial point,
This is a test to see, can we let go?
Can we fulfill the job that gods appoint?”

The one who owned the home, cousin of Kai,
Who was surnamed He, looked nervous and frowned,
And though his wife had served ample food,
His mouth contained an awkward trembling sound:

“I know your heart is good, but in Beijing,
Things work a different way, you’d be appalled.
To get things done, a backdoor must be used:
A gift, some money, then give them a call.
Appeals are jokes to the officials here,
Just think of June 4th, back in ‘89
So many more were peacefully at the Square,
And guns and tanks mowed down each protest sign.
In ‘99, I was at Zhongnanhai
Appealing with the practitioners there,
Ten thousand we were and we nobly stood
And then they said, ‘Now we’ll treat you fair,’
But then the arrests just began again.
Practitioners I once knew have disappeared,
And others speak of torture, endless pain.
I know an official who tells me things,
There is an order that practitioner deaths
Be counted as suicides and that they should
Beat the practitioners hard, to their last breaths.”

This speech from Mr. He confounded them,
And, Dimo, youngest, let the first words out:

“I’ve heard of practitioners who, at night,
Put flyers that spread the truth all about
Inside a mailbox, door, or window sill,
If we could do that in polluted Beijing,
The city that the nation and world look at
A positive effect, it still could bring.”

The eldest man, Lao Gan, also spoke up:

“I think back home that we’d do much more good:
We know our way around and we have friends,
We can hide out at a mountain or wood.
And our local police are not that smart,
So that we can use our connections well
To put pressure by exposing their deeds,
To show how much they’re like demons in hell.”

Then Kai spoke out,

“So are we frightened mice?
Who run away in fear from any noise?
Are we not fearless followers of the Way?
Shall we fall for each one of Evil’s ploys?
Old man, Lao Gan, weren’t you on your death bed,
All tossing turning plagued by some disease,
Your children given up, a casket bought,
A fruit from which life’s juice had all been squeezed?
Your brother Menglou, who’s here, saw all this;
He gave a Falun Dafa book to read
To you and meditation taught.
You grew so healthy both in mind and deed,
And stronger; all your children were amazed,
And then they started both to practice too.
My back that suffered for so many years
From sitting down in vans, now feels like new.
So how can we be true to ourselves then,
And true to Righteous Law and to the Way,
If we run away from appealing now,
Not loudly stating what we came to say?
If none go to the Square, I’ll go myself,
Just take my van and go to comfy home;
If I should die I’ll need no earthly wheels,
For spirits riding clouds can widely roam!”

As Kai just said these words a bird flew in,
A nightingale with sweet and trilling call,
A joyful spritely effervescent tune,
Resounding off the ceiling and each wall.
Yusong, the clever navigator, spoke,

“The Heavens have replied to Kai’s good speech,
And given us an omen to confirm
The goal that we set out as one to reach!”

But with a scowl, He’s wife Fanti replied,

“All that’s confirmed is that there is a hole
And he must stay tomorrow, fix it soon,
If not, we’ll have more birds we can’t control!”

Annoyed a little, Yusong said to her,

“Are you so blind and scared to miss the truth?
If you had righteous thoughts right now in mind,
You wouldn’t seem so angry and uncouth!”

And back and forth they went, as we depart,
To travel back a century or more,
To see a monk just starting on the Way,
He took his orders just a week before.
Already now he wants to leave the path,
And goes to whisper with his closest friend
With whom he joined the sacred temple life,
He says,

“My time is over here, my friend.
My mind is tortured by these boring walls,
The endless sitting in a tranquil pose,
The skimpy food that leaves my body weak;
They’re killing me with slow and steady blows.
They’ll kill you too if we do not escape,
Let’s leave tonight beneath the shining moon.
We’ll do hard labor, anything but this,
A speck of life or beef would be a boon!”

His friend could not agree; they parted ways.
The ex-monk lived a life of ups and downs,
Just as the spring’s brief beauty never stays,
Atop the tree no leaf forever crowns.
He felt just like a leaf that holds too long
And therefore longer takes to turn to dust
And feed the tree so that it can return
As leaf again to dance upon wind gusts.
He worries, wonders, without patience waits,
As other leaves ascend again, he cries,
And finally he ascends atop the tree,
As wind turns cold and leaves all start to die.
And then begins to worry all once more,
To fret as leaves around him drop to death.
Through cold and bitter nights he’s kept his hold.
Regretting it, he nears his final breath.
So too the ex-monk felt so sick and drained,
As if he had accomplished nothing good,
And visiting that ancient temple once,
His friend of old, a monk, before him stood.
He looked divine and noble, fresh and sharp,
Untouched by toils and vices of the world,
His very self a great accomplishment
That to the ex-monk’s eyes had been unfurled.

The ex-monk died just shortly after that,
His floating soul was greeted kindly then
By spirits who were planning his next life
“Among the rocks or creatures, plants or men?”
To one such spirit, standing there, he said:

“In deepest sorrow I lament my life,
If only I could’ve followed close the Way,
I might’ve escaped the endless earthbound strife.
I’ll be a monk in my next life I swear,
So that one day I’ll join your holy ranks,
And transcend mankind’s illusory state.
Just send me now, and I give you my thanks.”

The glowing spirit slowly looked at him,
And leafed through pages of a mammoth book:

“Impossible, I’m afraid, we’re all booked up,
So many trillions wait, here take a look.”

The ex-monk saw “Human Body Wait List,”
And within that there was a “Monk Wait List,”
So filled with names, when he peered at just one,
It turned to more, like tunneling through mist.
Upon the sight of such despair and gloom,
The glowing spirit grabbed a second book
And flipped through it with earnest care.
He said,

“This might be that for which you look,
‘A nightingale is needed for this job
Reminding mortals of immortal vows;
A song to let their senses not be robbed.’
I think that if you can do this job well,
The merit you receive will not be small,
And then you may apply again next time
To have a human body then installed.”

And so, the soul agreed and signed his name,
Arriving at the proper time and place.
He even perched upon He’s southern wall
The one that to Tiananmen closest faced.
Amidst debate, Kai thought upon that fact,
And broke into the back and forth with this:

“Enough discussion, He can stay right here,
I think this is a chance we should not miss
Which way is best that bird there seems to know,
It points to Tiananmen, make no mistake.
Although, we can’t force anyone to go.
This is a choice that each of us must make.”

 

The first six chapters of the planned 81-chapter Chinese Epic are included as bonus material in the rear of this adaptation of Homer’s two epics.

Evan Mantyk is a high school English teacher in the Hudson Valley region of New York

Falun Gong practitioners hold banners that read “Truth, Compassion, Forbearance,” the three main principles of Falun Gong, on Tiananmen Square as policeman approaches him

 

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5 Responses

  1. james sale

    Very skilful, especially the run-on lines and position of caesura; also, the choice of form is good as one couplet per quatrain does not over-do the sound effects. 81 is 9 times 9 so there must be magic ahead!

  2. Evan Mantyk

    Thanks, James! I’m not sure what kind of interest there is for these longer poetic pieces online. If readers want more of this particular poem and/or other longer works, please comment below. This is something the Society has not done much of… yet.

    • james sale

      I don’t know the answer to that question – brief extracts from long poems work well the greatest example I know of is Keats’ Hyperion fragments. But as I’ve said regarding epics before, they are difficult to sustain! I like your start, but only you can judge whether it’s sustainable. Look forward to seeing whatever you decide to do.

  3. Corey Brownings

    Hello Evan, I particularly like long pieces. I think perhaps the attention span of the modern world requires sound bites of everything, just short enough to flirt with their minds yet not too long to cause any mental strain. The past, however, seemed to venerate the length of works. Just think of Shakespeare’s “Rape of Lucrece”, he took a few hundred words from Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” and created the beauty of over 2000 lines of good verse. This first chapter was very entertaining, had nice narrative vitality, and was written nicely. I’m very interested in seeing how the narrative progresses.

    Feel free to share more please!

    Cheers!