Lee was raised in South Korea, North Dakota and Minnesota. He's been everything from a bartender to a phys ed instructor, to a journalist and a translator. Lee's first book Real Karaoke People was the winner of an Asian American Literary Award and the PEN Open Book Award.
Usually I only post poems here that are relatively short, and have no profanity in them. Lee's poem "If in America" made me break both those rules.
If in America
Hmong Hunter Charged With 6 Murders
Is Said to Be a Shaman--New York Times
If a tree falls in a forest,
does it make a sound?
If a rifle fires a shot in the woods,
whose body first hits the ground?
If a group of angry hunters
surrounds, curses at, and accosts you
for wandering onto their land
If you apologize for being lost,
inform you saw no posted signs, swallow
their chinks this and gooks taking over that;
are walking away over mud and fallen leaves when a loud
crack far behind you kicks up black earth
If your father was conscripted to fight
on the side of the United States
for the CIA during the war in Vietnam
If he, your mother, you--the oldest son--
and all your younger siblings were later abandoned
in the hills of Laos as targets for genocide by the Viet Cong
If after five years in a Thai refugee camp,
you come to this land as a teen, a casualty
of history and time, then receive three years
of training to become a sharpshooter
in the u.s. military
If you spent your adolescence watching blacks,
Asians, Latinos, and whites watching one
another watch each other for weakness and flaws
If, after this first blast, you wheel
around in a bright orange vest; glimpse
in that split second an angry, possibly
inebriated man lowering or resighting his rifle
If, in that icy moment, you recall
the Native friend you used to collect cans with;
once watched his three-hundred-pound father
unload himself from a Chevy Impala and chase
the boy down University with a ball-peen hammer
If, of your own children, your quietest
son lately lacks the wherewithal at school
to defend himself; and your oldest daughter
has always been for some inexplicable reason
ashamed of you
If hunting for you is not just a sport;
never a time to drink beers
with friends in a cabin, but rather
is a factor in considering your family's winter protein consumption
If you believe in God, but not the good in everyone
If you hate to think about this s***, because
why the f*** is it always on you
to preprove your loyalty and innocence?
If--frightened for your life and
the livelihood of your immediate and extended
family--in that split second, you reel
and train your own gun back at the far face
of that vapory barrel now aiming at your own
If, yes, you are sometimes angry and so look forward
to escaping your truck driver's life on certain
designated dates, on certain designated
lands, not always clearly demarcated, but always clearly stolen
from the ancestors of fat drunk red men
so confused they chase their own firey songs
in the form of their sons
Stolen from generations of skewed black backs,
hunched your whole life on street corners laughing
and picking their bones
Stolen from the paychecks of your brown coworker
social security ghosts
Stolen like your own people
from mountains in one land
only to be resettled and resented here
in projects and tenements
If you barely finished high school, but you know
from all you've ever seen of this system
Might Makes Right,
and excuses, treaties, and cover-ups
appear the only true code inscribed on most white men's souls
If, after such slurs, pushes, and threats in these woods
it is now also on you to assess
if that far rifle still locked on your face
just issued a mistake, a warning
shot, or murderous attempt--
and the answer is:
your military muscle fibers
If you then spot three four five six seven? other
hunters now scattering for their ATVs
and, of course--if a gook,
don't be a dumb one--
scattering now also for their weapons
If you are alone in this land,
on foot, in miles of coming snow, wind, and branches
and don't even know
in which direction you'd run
If from birth you've seen
what men with guns, knives,
and bombs are capable of doing
for reasons you never wanted to understand
If in this very same county's court of all-white
witnesses, counsel, judge, and jurors
it will forever be your word against theirs
because there was no forensic testimony
over who shot first
If, yes, sometimes you can hear voices,
not because you're insane, but
in your culture
you are a shaman, a spiritual healer,
though in this very different land
of goods and fears, your only true worth
seems to be as a delivery man and soldier
If, upon that first fateful exchange in these woods,
your instinct, pushing pin to
balloon, were to tell you it's now
either you and your fatherless family of fourteen,
or all of them
Would you set your rifle down;
hope the right, the decent,
the fair thing on this buried American soil
Or would you stay low,
one knee cold, and do
precisely as your whole life
and history have trained?
And if you did,
would anyone even care
what really happened
eight bodies plummeted
to earth like deer?
- "If in America" by Ed Bok Lee, from his collection of poetry Whorled, published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted here with the permission of the publisher.
FYI, Coffee House Press is celebrating the release of both Whorled and Bao Phi's collection Sông I Sing on September 24 at the Minneapolis Central Library. That day happens to mark "100 Poets for Change," an international celebration of poetry to promote serious social, environmental, and political change.(1 Comments)
Posted at 11:00 AM on September 14, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Opera
The Minnesota Opera is hoping to get you addicted to its new season. Check out this tongue-in-cheek ad:
The Children's Theatre Company appears to have a hankering for bacon.
After much success with its production of Babe the company is now presenting another play starring a pig. Mercy Watson to the Rescue is based on the children's book by popular Minnesota author Kate DiCamillo.
Photo by Dan Norman
Should you go? Two out of three critics say "yes!" Check out these excerpts of reviews to make up your own mind.
The cast has at this material with CTC's patented over-the-top and howlingly funny bombastic blustering (Peter Brosius directs with his usual flair). As Mercy, Sara Richardson gives a winning performance, with her mincing walk and her Charlie Chaplin chapeau. Myself, I found her a touch automaton-ish, but then I'm not 6 years old. Every time Richardson made an entrance childish delight rippled through the auditorium. The kids adored her. She carries the show.
I would recommend Mercy Watson To The Rescue but with a big caveat: it's for young children. Grown-ups are likely to become frustrated by the lack of meaningful character development and the extreme predictability of the story. So get hold of some kids and go. They'll have a great time and you'll have a great time watching them.
And be prepared to walk out of the theater with a powerful hankering for buttered toast.
Photo by Dan Norman
There's not much depth here (Mercy wants toast, Mercy gets toast, by hook or by crook), but plenty of twists, turns and pratfalls as an able ensemble brings these well-known characters to life. Gerald Drake and Mo Perry are entertainingly oblivious as Mr. and Mrs. Watson, a couple so contented with their lives and their "porcine wonder" that they simply ooze infectious cheer. Wendy Lehr brings the demeanor of a diminutive martinet to the role of killjoy neighbor Eugenia Lincoln, positively bristling with self-righteous annoyance as she terrorizes her sister, Baby (Elizabeth Griffith), and browbeaten cat (Jason Ballweber).
The real standouts in this piece, however, are Sara Richardson as Mercy the pig and Reed Sigmund as her arch-nemesis, animal-control officer Francine Poulet. Displaying an impressive range of facial expression and a body seemingly made of rubber, Richardson imbues Mercy with a wide-eyed insouciance and a convincing range of oinks, grunts and squeals in a masterfully comic performance. She's well-matched by Sigmund's over-the-top Francine, who alternately simpers and blusters her way through capturing her prey.
Photo by Dan Norman
In the books, Mercy is clever and just naughty enough to be winsome and lovable. But something is lost in director Peter Brosius' translation to the stage. Richardson, who plays the eponymous swine, comes off more as a spoiled brat with overtones of ADHD than a guileless critter governed by her tummy.
The problem is one of breadth. CTC seldom costumes animal characters with acres of foam and fur, preferring to let the skill of the actors and the imagination of audiences create the character. And while Richardson is an able enough performer, there's something - well - too human about her characterization of Mercy. Her performance - and some of the others that surround it - isn't sufficiently larger-than-life to transport us into the fanciful world of the play.
This robs the show of momentum and makes the second act of the play - which is essentially one long chase scene - drag rather than glide along.
Have you seen the show? If so, what did you think? Leave your review in the comments section.