In partnership with Wordsfest, the ECH is happy to present the fourth installment of Sleepwalking: Embassy Cultural House stands with Hong Kong.
Sleepwalking with Bob Black, Wu'er Kaixi, Yam Lau and Scott Savitt was an online panel with ECH members Bob Black and Yam Lau in-conversation with esteemed guests Wu'er Kaixi and Scott Savitt. The event took place on November 20, 2021 at 7PM and acknowledged the complex and nuanced politics of Hong Kong in relation to their work as writers, poets, and activists.
Authors & Presenters
Bob Black is an award-winning poet and photographer currently based in Toronto. Born in California, Bob lived part of his childhood in Taipei, Taiwan before returning to the U.S. He has published his poems, essays and short fiction in Canada, Australia, Russia, France, Japan and the U.S. Twice a finalist for the CBC National Poetry award, and recipient of writing awards in the USA and Europe. His book of poetry 鬼故事: A Love Story, Vol. 1 will be published in late 2021.
Wu'er Kaixi is an activist and exiled dissident known for his leading role in the Tiananmen protests of 1989. He achieved prominence while studying at Beijing Normal University as a hunger striker who rebuked Chinese Premier Li Peng on national television. After the protests, he fled to France through Hong Kong and then studied in the United States of America. Of Uighur descent, he currently lives in Taiwan and is the General Secretary of the Taiwan Parliamentary Human Rights Commission.
Born in British Hong Kong, Yam Lau is an artist and writer based in Toronto; he is currently an Associate Professor at York University. Lau’s creative work explores new expressions and qualities of space, time and the image. His recent works involve video and computer-generated animation to create spaces in varied dimensionalities and perspectives. A recipient of awards from the Canada, Ontario and Toronto arts councils. Lau has also exhibited widely across Canada, mainland China and Europe.
Scott Savitt, from the United States, went to Beijing as an exchange student in 1983. He found himself drawn to the political scene and became the youngest accredited foreign correspondent in China, working for publications such as Asiaweek Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, United Press International, and Beijing Scene. In 2000, he was arrested, jailed, and then deported. He recounts his extraordinary experiences in his memoir Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China (2016).
Photos of Wu'er Kaixi taken by Scott Savitt in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square Protests.
A Monk by a Lake
By Bob Black
“It is within you that the ghosts acquire voices”—Calvino
“Never let go of that fiery sadness called desire.”—Patti Smith
Life has its own appetite and desire.
I rose to greet him from the singing of his voice, awakened
And as I pirouetted skyward through the cool green water
Ascending toward the moon’s light, licking my surface like a wavering tongue
I saw, and I saw and I
Ink upon the shy sky in shadows
Spring, lighting the night as a torch forward--forward,
The scent of plum blossoming the spread like ink, with your tender fingers
As your pre-arranged wife once whispered into your ear, command or supplication, as the night sheltered
That night you left the palace for this monastery hiding upon my wet shoulders.
You lept from the riches of royalty to the songs of monastic silence,
All the time I was here waiting for you, unaware you would find me again, since that tired morning we first met
The wet and cracking train, my tired heart, your eager words, a royal 羅哩叭嗦
A married woman from the country side, often called 狐狸精,as if bequeathed by DNA.
What do most people know of the many-sided dragon heart of love.
Love jaws upon us in a moment, the springing and the winging,
Our destiny was set in motion by each of our births and a betrayal and a train ride
Until we were both trapped, you a prince reborn a monk,
Me a temperamental, green-cool body of water flattened by wave and hope and song..
Our hearts sheaved and cloven, inventing our own idioms through the night
The soft weather my love,
It could have only been you.
It could only have been
Love surfaces fast and changes in the instant
The flag slipped by us as summer skipped along the wine-colored breeze that New Year’s Day morning
Batons and bower-birds and red lanterns everywhere,
You with your princely red vest and silk hat, your heart on your head,
Me in my widow’s dress with my feet pressed the size of tea cups, black as the trees in the distant winter.
Shall I remind you that I did not steal you away but it was you who broke me and became element.
We had met on that fateful train at the time the morning of the New Year
Wearied, widowed with spidery-veined hands and a spirit like the black ink of mist on the cowering on mountain sides,
Fatigued, hung-over, and sleepless, traveling from Beijing to Zhejiang, alone cicada shells long left lingering
Orphaned by the war and there you were, without asking, just sitting across me as the landscape and light ran away
Interrogated by your hunger and questioning and there my heart bloomed when you spoke of her family and fear
I was 29 and felt so old until I listened to you sing of an emerald lake at Tonglu, the color of my bastard eyes,
You said, eyes that I had inherited from the Missionary who took advantage of my grandmother,
The color and shape of which others always accused me of sorcery, what is in the color of one’s eyes if not love
And then when you departed, in our cold, bone-creaking train, telling me, after setting my head aflame, that you
Were running to the monastery to live a life escaping hermitted from the royalty of your name and chosen wife
As I watched you walk off, I saw our life fanning out in front of me, my stupid age, like a flower after rain.
I was reborn and I was alive.
Little did I know what was in store for us both.
Living as fiction in ruminative form, this is what your death taught me.
Do you remember when I visited you 10 years after that fateful train road,
Your heart hardened by the cold winters in the monstery by the lake, the morning sitting on the bridge
That was bowed as your back, the arch of stone and the arch of the heart, are they not the same vessel,
And you didn’t recognize me when I called your name
And you responded that I demon 相思病 was simply the shrewish yalp:
And I was crushed and I ran and I ran
I was lost and racing toward the end of the bridge awaiting relief from the cool green depth,
Scampering as I pretended to be a fox pretending to be a bear pretending to be an angel fallen
And dripped from the broad sky and I jumped,
Feet first and closed my heart
The wind carrying my life away above the surface and I became separated for you forever
And one with the earth and the heavens and the lake filled with my tears
And I was gone
The color of my eyes transforming into the translucent, jade surface of the lake.
Love is borderless, so my death and transformation taught us too late.
So here you are, an old monk who has spent his entire life sitting and meditating
Overlooking my watery body, my flourishing song, my slattern mouth, my forest eyes,
Every day until today, the day of your death, as you too lept from the bridge
And I waited for you, my arms spread wide
My prince, my monk, my locked-box.
In my hope-damp bosom, we finally held one another.
Did it need to come to all this?
The lacuna steeped inside.
We are pictures rendered, incomplete.
We reach to grasp the shadow of our lives, but the shadow retreats into the lines of the distance.
Is this the lesson of love?
Inseparable as each other’s shadows,
We carve light from shadow. Husk cob of time from skin and bone and draw circles out of incurable lines.
for: 任鈞, Yan Zhou, Debby Kwong and 美撒郭: extraordinary artists and friends, a world.
During the online panel on November 20th, 2021, an excerpt of this poem was read in Cantonese by artist and speaker, Yam Lau.