When I first met Rich, the summer of 2008, I thought she was very shy, but I also knew she was confident enough to give me a poem she had written for a class assignment. Like most of my poets, she’s a scientist, pharmaceutical research for her in particular. She speaks English nervously, as if she’s worried, late and has to hurry, in quiet bursts of choppy little phrases that seem to have nothing to do with fluency or syntax, and spoken more directly to the floor than to me. I have never heard anyone so firm in her thoughts sound so confused. Here’s the perfect poem she wrote:
Clouds fold, clouds stretch.
White deer, white cat.
Smooth red-color silk
spreads over blue mat.
Dark curtains close sky:
only blinking golden eyes.
I told her she ought to change one line by putting in the
Dark curtains close the sky
She told me quietly that she didn’t want to add the. I had to lean close to her to hear what she was saying and told her that we usually feel more comfortable in English when we add an article; it sounds a little odd to us if the article isn’t there: “English isn’t Chinese,” but she wasn’t having any of it, and told me again that she wouldn’t do it: “No.” She said “no” like she was a rock or a wall, and I bent immediately to her will knowing she had worked over every word, that they were hers. “You are right,” I said. “It is your poem.”
I was in Wuhan last summer and e-mailed Rich to ask if I could videotape her reciting her poem. She was visiting her family and e-mailed me back. Here is part of what she wrote it:
Some grapes grow on the grape tree at my home, and wasps always like to taste it. They often stick into the grape and drink the sweet juice. They do not eat them all, and prefer to taste the grapes one by one. We have to rush to pick the grapes out of the wasps’ mouth. They are so naughty insects. Best regards! Ruiqi Liu
Rich has given me two wonderful gifts. One is very personal, a fan her aunt painted which is very beautiful. She also gave me a bracelet from a Buddhist temple made with wooden beads.