Five Prose Poems

Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

fait accompli :: accomplished fact

Anna Quindlen begins her Austen essay with the dreaded quote about the single man, and how being rich or handsome or respectable means he must have one desire. To marry. To have a wife. It is a primary desire. A primal one too, Gigi suspects. Gigi never asked why marriage, why the rite of passage, or whether there was another life she could have had. It didn't even seem like a choice when she said yes. It didn't seem like a decision. Her lover had asked, and she was young. The promise of stability, something you can count on, living from one life milestone to another — instead of a month-to-month drudgery — was seductive. Marriage seemed not ordinary, but a chip off the normal course of things. As if one would walk to the train station to take the train. Not that Gigi ever wanted babies. Not that they ever entertained the idea with her lover having to travel. There are anthropologists who insist on establishing normalcy, and there are anthropologists who resist the life of expectations they come from. Gigi knew children wasn't part of their plans from the onset. And by the time her lover stopped being an anthropologist, her best years had passed. "Quindlen did what Martin Amis explicitly tried to avoid," Gigi tells her lover. "He simply refuses to start his essay with that truism. It doesn't count as a truism anyway. Just sounds like it's stating something true. Deceptive, isn't it?"





verb sap :: a word to the wise is sufficient

The mendicant seems less comfortable talking about just war theory, bringing in what he'd learnt from Tessa Bartholomeusz, Ralph Potter and Joseph Allen, all the thorny points of view. And how is he to somehow swirl Arthur Dyck's rights and responsibilities into the mix, like a web of moral bonds? But if Gigi is to join him, maybe even leave her lover, she will balk at venturing into the discourse of violence. Gigi is standing behind the mendicant, rolling out his straw mat for him to take a nap. The mendicant, like her lover, grows tired easily these days. Both need her help in getting up. Both are becoming forgetful. Both stop talking in mid-thought as if to return to the self, and its deep spiral. Both seem to like the immersion, as if the longer they keep silent, the greater the likelihood of their disappearing. Gigi will write about nonviolence, and invoke Gandhi, King and Ariyaratne. She has read Ninian Smart's essay, "Buddhism, Sri Lanka, and the Prospects for Peace", and she'll cite passages from it. These she will frame with something from Tambiah and Obeyesekere. This makes Gigi smile, the thought of having something to say, and having the opportunity to tell people about it.





lebensraum :: life space

Gigi looks out the window. The mendicant is not there, which even the vegetable seller finds strange, looking at Gigi from across the street with a puzzled look. In the mail that day, there is a small note, folded into two and tied with a bit of cloth. It is in the mendicant's handwriting, its beautiful calligraphy ornate like a trellis. The note is short, a bit of a confession. "I know in all I wanted," Gigi reads the words softly to herself, "I too wanted peace, and not just to write about it. Yet in all I wanted, I haven't even made time to mourn the dead this month. This remains my regret. And how long has it been since the new year began? I have prepared no sermon or lesson today. Or for the rest of the week, or the week after this. Can one do a violence when all one is doing is telling or refusing to tell a story? If I were at a Silent Worship, this is what the Spirit would move me to say. As if to prepare me for the silence I will settle into in a sesshin. So that when I do step up to the round table to pick up the discourse again, my every being and effort will be to restore, retain or advance the peace, to keep the peace within myself and with others." The note is far too short for Gigi, who expects more information, a return address for one. The note reads like a confession, pushing itself out from a still point, but never wrapping itself nicely, like a proper goodbye.





dame de compagnie :: lady of company

There's a new book on the table from the library. It's something on Austen. Thirty-three writers talk about why they read her. There's even a foreword by Harold Bloom, who Gigi remembers as being something of a genius. She'd read his interview once in "The Paris Review", and it'd kept her up all night, thinking about what he'd said. This new book seems somewhat gratuitous in its dripping praise for a novelist so widely read, one wonders what else there is to unpack of her novels. But there is the essay by Virginia Woolf, and how she thinks "our knowledge of Austen is derived from a little gossip, a few letters, and her books". Gigi seems to like the idea of her lover being remembered by his books, even if they weren't autobiographical. She never appears in his books, not even in a dedication, because that would be too vain for an academic. "I compete for affection with the professor in you," Gigi has told him. She knows their letters will always be letters of confidence. It's in his will. That the letters never be published, even posthumously. It's Woolf's mention of gossip that Gigi finds disturbing. Gigi doesn't like gossip, but what Woolf writes after is what gets her thinking: "As for the gossip, gossip which has survived its day is never despicable; with a little rearrangement it suits our purpose admirably."





beau geste :: beautiful gesture

"Perhaps the confluence between Buddhist tenets and Sarvodayan goals is most evident in the movement's definition of development where goals are tied to Dharma sources espousing varied teachings from the broad ideals of compassion, generosity and dependent co-arising to more specific doctrines of the five precepts and rules governing the sangha. The Land of Plenty, Dhanagara in all its social, economic, political aspects is inextricably related to the Isle of Righteousness, Dharmadveepa, in all its moral, cultural, spiritual facets." Gigi has not left her seat. The previous paragraph demands explication. Her response to her lover's paragraph mimics its officious tone, as if to say there is a voice in here very much like yours, and it's here because we've been together this long. The words she types are cold — they still look cold, flickering on the screen — but they don't feel as aloof as before. The words don't seem to alienate her, or make her feel smaller, different, inadequate. Perhaps she should push the matter into a different realm. Talk about Weber now, a return to an earlier page in the draft. Her lover's thoughts seem to have hijacked themselves there, where Weber was discussed, where he compared Western and Buddhist monasticism, where he contended that Buddhism could not develop what he called a rational economic ethic. Gigi looks up from the table, and around the room for a moment. The room is the same as it was a half hour ago. The music has been on repeat. It is Helfgott's "Etude in E", a delicate melody. It is a steady flow, like her thoughts and how they walk and gather now.



Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé has edited more than ten books and co-produced three audio books. These span the genres of ethnography, journalism, poetry, and creative nonfiction, several edited pro bono for non-profit organizations. Trained in publishing at Stanford, with a theology masters (world religions) from Harvard and fine arts masters (creative writing) from Notre Dame, he is the recipient of the PEN American Center Shorts Prize, Swale Life Poetry Prize, Cyclamens & Swords Poetry Prize, and Stepping Stones Nigeria Poetry Prize, among other awards. Desmond is an interdisciplinary artist, also working in clay. His commemorative pieces are housed in museums and private collections in India, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.