Linh Dinh does the U.S./Mexico Border

Sometime around last Thanksgiving the Vietnamese-American poet and fictioneer Linh Dinh showed up in El Paso. A friend in Marfa had told him to go visit Bobby Byrd in El Paso. So there was Linh Dinh walking in the Cinco Puntos Press office in downtown El Paso. He immediately liked El Paso, he said, and he wanted to know more about our city and her bedraggled sister on the other side. He had been reading books about the border and the more he read the more interested he became. I took him on my downtown walking tour. Linh Dinh didn’t want the art museum or the pretty stuff. He wanted the meat, the bleeding but sacred heart.
It was Saturday a month before Christmas and the shoppers from Mexico jammed El Paso Street. It was hard to walk down the El Paso Street, the shoppers buying dolls and hats and t-shirts and tennis shoes and blue jeans and dainty neon-colored bras and panties. Linh Dinh was happy among the Mexican throngs. My downtown walk naturally ends up at the El Paso Street Bridge, so we started up the bridge toward Juárez. A mile long caravan of cars stretching down Avenida de Juárez idled and groaned waiting for the blessing of Customs to let them into the 1st World. Mexican photographer Julian Cardona was sitting in that line of semi-parked cars in his little pickup. He honked at us. It’s hard to miss the gringo with the goofy hat, especially if he’s jabbering at a Vietnamese poet. Julian had chores to do on the U.S. side. He smiled and said he’d only been waiting an hour so far. Fronterizos get used to the wait. We all know the laws are stupid, but if you have business or family on the other side, then you go to the other side. Linh told Julian that he admired his photographs in Mike Davis’ No One is Illegal. Linh was happy to meet Julian, and Julian was happy to meet a Vietnamese poet who admires his photographs. I left Linh with a map scribbled out on a 3x5 card and crossed back over the bridge.

That evening Linh came back to the office delighted about his walkabout into Juárez. We traded books. I gave him poems and he gave me poems (Borderless Bodies and American Tatts). Later on he sent me his collection of short stories Blood and Soap. I became a rabid Linh Dinh fan, sharing his books with anybody who asked. His writing is like a big random Vietnamese-American stew boiling forever on the stove with the bloodied body parts of Vietnamese writers, Kafka, Borges, Frank O’Hara and a multitude of other nameless beings. Sometimes Linh writes in English. Other times he writes in Vietnamese. His poems and stories mock the human body. Shit happens just like the bumper sticker says. Likewise fornication. Unseemly breasts and sweat and anuses and death. Fat people and mean people. No meaningless people. But horny people. Football coaches. Lost Viet Cong heroes tunneling to America. It’s a strange place inside his poems. Linh Dinh thinks it’s a funny place although I can smell his tears. He puts the glass of milk inside his poems. It’s half empty. He empties the glass on the floor. Then he breaks the damn glass that was only half empty anyway. Please don’t lie down on the floor. The floor is milky wet and very dangerous. Not a funny place at all. God never makes an appearance. At least not yet. And even if she did I don’t think she’d be welcome. These are some of the many reasons why America should mistrust Linh Dinh.


The Mind’s G Spot

We’re not miserable, just looking.
You treat me like a piece of media.

Before webcams, our poor mothers
Had to place sushi on Xerox machines,

Then snail mail the blotchy results
To our sad fathers, dribbling in prison.

Now we can upload our nuts instantly.
My silicone tits get a million hits a day.

A million scabbards whack against my face.
It’s more hygienic and serial this way.

Those we couldn’t pin decades ago
Keep coming back, spreading.

The gutter punks, surfers, cheerleaders,
Our first or second cousins, our mothers.

--from Borderless Bodies
A Factory School Book


Would You Mind?

It’s OK that my wife
Likes to suck my titties.
I wish in turn that her hands
Were several sizes larger.
It’d be good to latch on to
Such substantial thumbs.

Years ago, in the parked car,
After much drinking in Winter,
The sad girl said: “Thank you!
It’s been so long. I’m going to cry.”

The Trojan stayed secreted inside
The imitation leather wallet
For several years, forever,
Until it finally fell apart.

We ate blue fish, she and I,
When the evening was pasted against the sky
Like two mental patients, naked on the gray carpet.

Lit by a candle, uneaten, the skinny girl
Watched the boy undress, then said,
“I’ll lie down next to you, if you don’t mind.”

If we’re still unclaimed a decade from now,
With no one to fondle or pester us,
Would you mind having a baby with me?

American Tatts
--from Chax Press

Since we met Linh Dinh wrote about his journey to El Paso and Juárez, including meeting up with Julian on the bridge, on this Vietnamese website Talawas Chu Nhat concerning literature, culture and ideas. Later he was kind enough to write about Cinco Puntos and my poetry on The Poetic Invention Blogspot. I was just there, trying how to find the article and I see where Linh and other Vietnamese writers have launched Wikivietlit. There I found this:
The Vietnamese do not say, "I burst out laughing," but, "I was angered into laughing,"or, "I was saddened into laughing." The individuals in Wikivietlit were apparently angered and saddened into writing.
Most certainly: Linh Dinh.


The Resurrection of Bert Ringold

In the fall Cinco Puntos Press will publish a book of poems by Harvey Goldner. This is not a smart capitalistic move. Like Sandy Taylor, a long time publishing mentor of Lee’s and mine and a co-publisher at the Curbstone Press says, “Publishing poetry is suicidal.” Still we do it because I am a poet and from time to time we feel the urge. It’s almost a biological and emotional necessity, like making love. Sandy would totally agree. It just feels good.

The book of poems is Harvey’s The Resurrection of Bert Ringold. I grew up alongside Harvey Goldner in Memphis. He’s probably the one guy most responsible for me becoming a poet. Once during the craziness of our adolescence Harvey took me down to the public library. Forgive me if I have my dates wrong but I think we were 15 or 16. If we were 15, then we rode the bus, the front of the bus. We were white boys and this was 1958-down-South-post-Boss-Crump Memphis 10 long years before James Earle Ray unsheathed his rifle and shot Martin Luther King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Harvey checked out two 78rpm vinyl records—one was called The San Francisco Renaissance and the other was Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading Coney Island of the Mind. My gosh, my idea about poetry changed immediately and forever. I remember Allen Ginsberg reading Howl like it was a Declaration of our Independence, wise drunken gay Jack Spicer murmuring into the microphone and of course Ferlinghetti’s hypnotic sing-song voice telling us that “the dog walks freely in the street and the things he sees are bigger than himself.”

Before I paste in a Harvey Goldner poem, I want to give praise and thanks to that long-ago librarian who purchased those records. Also, I worry if I have my dates correct on when we listened to those records. I googled but couldn’t find the exact record or a date, Harvey remembers listening to something but he is clueless about further details, so Harvey and I could have made our magical journey to The New American Poetry sometime before I left Memphis in late 1962. I don’t think so (I like the way I tell my story), but maybe.

So here’s the first poem of The Resurrection of Bert Ringold.

Apocalypse September 1994

Mid-September, late afternoon, the world
came to an end, just like Harold
Camping had been predicting it would

on Bible Radio. Who’d have believed
that loony grouch? But there was no Hollywood
Armageddon: blond Madonna thrashing in mud,

cities on fire, armies clashing, rivers of blood,
ground quaking and cracking up, booming rap
music—none of that loud and dramatic crap:

God simply and quietly turned off, or turned
way down, Earth’s gravity. My old dad
and I were in the park, walking Manfred,

Dad’s dog, a German shepherd, when Dad
tossed a red rubber ball for Manfred
to catch. Manfred jumped and missed the red

ball, as usual (the dog was old and half-blind),
but—lo and behold—both the ball and Manfred
kept on going up and up, with Manfred

barking after the ball like a mad
cracker preacher after a sexy sinner. I rubbed
my eyes, thinking I might be having an acid

flashback, but when I turned to face Dad,
his shoes were up where his face had
been, and he hovered above me. I grabbed

his ankles to tug him down, but I too left the ground.
Luckily we were under a tree, and we wedged
ourselves between branches. We watched Manfred

rise through the sky toward a big red cloud.
Park debris ascended, as well as a crowd which included
cats and dogs, mothers with babies in strollers, and

two softball teams with their gear. Then Dad
smiled at me and said, “Fuck it, son,” and we scrambled
out of the tree. I held Dad’s hand as we rose toward

the cloud. Dad soon died. I cried. Blood trickled
out of Dad’s nose. I’m still slowly rising. It’s cold
and dark now, the air is terribly thin, a dead

horse just floated past. Using Dad’s back
as a sort of a desk, I’m writing this poem
by the light of the half-moon, with a pencil,

on my current bank statement. For once I’m not
depressed that my balance is under a dollar.
And I’ll soon be dead, so there just isn’t time

to fuss too much anymore with meter and rhyme.
I’m going to put this poem in the half-pint
bourbon bottle (empty now) that I filched

from Dad’s hip pocket. I’ll fling it toward the
stars, which, thank God, are still in their places.
Hopefully, some weird being from a distant galaxy

will find it, and hopefully he, she or it
will like 20th century American poetry.


On Monday morning, January 1st of this year, I decided that I would begin a blog. I’ve been reading Ron Silliman’s blog for a long time now and I enjoy it, and I appreciate his industry in his continual writing. I need that, so the primary reason I begin this blog is to give me a habit for my work. What follows is the piece I wrote on that Monday morning, the first day of 2007. A woodpecker—my first bird of the New Year—hammered at a telephone pole in the chilly bright morning. Later that morning I happened upon this poem, # 47 of “The poems of Pickup (Shin-te)” in The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, the revised and expanded bilingual edition from Copper Canyon that was wonderfully translated and annotated by Red Pine.

The world had its know-it-alls
fools for empty prose
indifferent to the
they sow seeds of hate
seeing buddhas they don’t bow
monks makes them mad
Sin and Evil are their colleagues
the Poisons live
next door
when they die they go to hell
and see the sun no more

This collection has been my morning toilet reading on and off for the last several years or so. Two or three poems a day, sometimes more, sometimes less—for several months I put it aside, having come bored with Han Shan’s sometime preachy ways. That’s the way my poetry-reading life is.

Shin-te (Pickup) was the youngest of those three poet hermits—the most famous of course is Han Shan (Cold Mountain) and then his tall hairy friend Feng Kan (Big Stick). None of them had much truck with the monkish ways of the Kuoching Temple at the foot of Tientai Mountain which was their primary hangout when they were not happily lost in the woods. In his preface, Red Pine gives us this story about Pickup:

One day Big Stick was walking along the trail that led between Kuoching and the
nearby county seat of Tientai. Upon reaching the cinnabar-colored outcrop of
rock known as Redwall, he heard someone crying. Searching in the bushes, he
found a ten-year-old boy. The boy head had been left there by his parents, so
Big Stick picked him up and brought him back to Kuoching.
This is sort of a Moses-in-the-rushes story, huh? Much later Cold Mountain met Pickup at the temple and “the two became such close friends, their images are still used by Chinese in their homes to represent marital harmony.”

I first read Cold Mountain via the Gary Snyder translations that were in his Rip Rap book. I have a beat up and much used copy of that around here somewhere. This probably was in 1963 at the Ruth Stefan Poetry Center at the University of Arizona. I had the “beginner’s mind” about poetry. I read the New American poets over and over, especially the poets from Black Mountain Poets and the San Francisco Renaissance. For sure these three hermits—Cold Mountain, Big Stick and Pickup—were the poets Philip Whalen was thinking about when he scribbled down “Hymnus Ad Patrem Sinensis” which I first read in his wonderfully titled book Memoirs of an Interglacial Age:

I praise those ancient Chinamen
Who left me a few words,
Usually a
pointless joke or silly question
A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the
margin of a quick splashed picture -
bug, leaf, caricature of Teacher
paper held together now by little more than ink
& their own strength
brushed momentarily over it
Their world and several since
Gone to hell
in a handbasket, they knew it -
Cheered as it whizzed by -
& conked
out among the busted spring rain
cherryblossom winejars
Happy to have
saved us all.

If you know Red Pine's Cold Mountain book, then you know I’m done with this reading of it now. Pickup’s 49 poems is the book’s caboose. But this morning—New Year’s Day, 2007—was a good day to finish it, especially to find this poem by Pickup which so easily can be changed here and there to make it so completely contemporary. It doesn’t appear that much has changed in the psyche for us humans in the last 1200 years except our technologies and some of the metaphors we use (“hell” for instance) that offer us so many opportunities for violence and self-obliteration. So I wish and will work for peace in the New Year but I don’t hold out any hope. And I will continue to write my poems. It’s a good time to be a poet, I think, although the pay is very shitty.