Shadow of the Laogai

In the Laogai’s shadow, the ghosts of China stir,
Unseen by dreaming eyes as golden currents blow
Across the sea. Our compassion seems to falter
In the Laogai’s shadow.

As the Red rope tightens, prices fall like Harbin snow
Upon the Western coast. What need have we to censure,
Though, when from this system countless riches flow?

Millions of sacrifices on the Party altar,
Millions toiling in the secret places that we know—
Until our dormant hearts bestir, the ghosts will labor
In the Laogai’s shadow.


This Canvas

We pray our children are normal, like us—
no twists of the limbs or rifts in the mind—
but distortion enhances this canvas.

Our shrunken sight isn’t always aligned
with the Artist’s dream. We think blessing means
no twists of the limbs or rifts in the mind,

so when gray reality contravenes,
we cannot connect our concept of Grace
with the Artist’s dream. We think blessing means

a polished body or a handsome face—
To anything awkward, crooked, or odd
we cannot connect our concept of Grace.

A clockwork brain, flesh scrunched into a wad—
Heavenly eyes have assigned much value
To anything awkward, crooked, or odd.

Because humans often don’t see what’s true,
We pray our children are normal, like us—
Heavenly eyes have assigned much value
to the distortion blessing this canvas.


Adrift in the Sea

I am cast adrift in a heartless sea.
Flung round like wreckage by a wine-dark wave,
I seem destined for a water-hewn grave,
A mournful end to my bleak odyssey.
The deathless forces aligned against me
Have made my life the frigid ocean’s slave.
With violence, the billows beat and rave—
A desert of water is all I see.
I float in a void, without friends, alone.
Yet, though it seems my wheel of life is done,
And the prize of my heart will not be won,
I can, by Heaven, be restored my throne.
For those who die, life is flooded with fire;
Mercy alone will raise me from this gyre.


A Plea to Scylla

From Glaucus

The first sound you uttered was not a roar
or a hiss but a pure, welcoming cry
when you spilled like gold from life’s treasure door.
Your beauty made all the witnesses sigh—
eternity gleamed in each priceless eye.
As you grew, no mortal flaw marked your skin.
The heavenly spark was but brightened by
your womanly bloom. You performed no sin.
My ill-fated love made your suffering begin.

In youth, you were not a cursed monster,
plucking men off ships like grapes from a vine.
You laughed in joy as you danced on the shore,
waves kissing your feet so dainty and fine.
When I saw you, I swore you must be mine,
so I asked you, fair maid, with me to stay—
allow me to be the priest of your shrine.
But my sea-green power scared you away,
and you fled like the sun at the death of a day.

You fled my domain, displacing my heart
from its home. I sank, a shell in the sea.
I could never now endure life apart,
so I sought the aid of the witch Circe.
This desperate choice caused much tragedy:
Enamored, she sought my love for her own;
repulsed, the cold witch determined that she
would make you pay for my love all alone.
For my wretched sin, you would be forced to atone.

You were no wretch when you stepped in the pool
to wash any trace dirt from a body
so pure. Yet the sorceress had been cruel.
She poisoned the sea with nightmarish glee,
making the flesh you submerged turn beastly.
Below your waist spread a serpentine skirt,
which twisted and writhed like an old, scraggly
flag. Though your body and limbs were not hurt,
the shock of this transmutation made you inert.

As you steeped inert in the toxic bath,
your feminine frame deformed to a snake,
sprouting six heads like a bouquet of wrath.
Worse than this shape, your pure heart grew opaque,
as you allowed the corruption to take
your soul. You became a monster inside;
clasping darkness made all humanness break.
Your soft beauty washed out with the noon tide,
yet it was your choice whether the good Scylla died.

Now, the Scylla I once loved is long dead.
Her successor waits with reptilian
hate, dreaming of meat on a bone-strewn bed.
Instead of a god, from whom she had run,
she shares life with a swirling sea coffin.
At one time, you deserved divine regard
when, child-like, you gamboled under the sun.
Within the beast must some spot glow unmarred…
With Jove’s love, you can desert this ocean graveyard.

So, dear Scylla, we know all will face pain.
Some sadly, like you, must suffer much more.
But for your eternal comfort and gain,
I hope you will reform your heart’s foul core.
Turn from your choice of service to rancor,
and call on God to blot out this dark spot,
on you his purifying mercy pour.
We cannot control the source of our lot—
We can choose to fight on or to let our life rot.


Ron L. Hodges is a long-time English teacher, having taught at Oxford Academy in Cypress, California, for the past ten years. About a year ago he started writing poetry, and has had three poems published so far in Ancient Paths Literary Magazine. He lives in Orange County, California with his wife and two sons.

Featured Image: Scylla and Glaucus

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