Poetry / June 2013 (Issue 21)

The Ballad of Great-Uncle Chi

by Jenna Le

for Buu Chi (1948-2002)

Mom’s uncle Chi, an artist jailed
for protesting the war,
made many ink-on-paper drawings
while living behind bars.

His drawings show gaunt hangdog men,
feet buried in packed snow,
who moonward reach with outspread hands
as though hefting a canoe.

His drawings show sopping-hearted men
with cacti where their hands
should be. They show vermin wielding scepters
above a melted land.

They show starved men whose biceps shrank
to the size of turkey wattles.
They show men doubled over, faces
blank as empty bottles.

They show brothers sparring to the death
who yesterday were born.
The moon above them’s black: a chewed-up,
spat-out peppercorn.

Friends smuggled his art across the sea.
They bundled it from the jail
down to the airport and the seaport,
whence it flew and sailed.

“Remember how Chi used to paint
nudes in the old French style?
What ample flesh those beauties had!
What pink cheeks! What moon-white smiles!”
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