One leap into the starry air Beneath the visiting moon When ghosts begin to roam This world of sense everywhere, She lands with paws and meows With a mask from a ghost paddler A cat wandering in night’s delight.
She walks toward the end An inch closer, eyes closed; Then one leap into the air She vanishes into the water Where no fate can stalk her Care about the world no more But the king and the lotus flower To forget the memories forever.
*Author’s Note: This poem is based on the Korean folktale of Shimchung about a girl who throws herself into the sea for 300 sacks of rice to be offered to Buddha so that her blind father can regain his eyesight. The Sea Emperor sends her back to land in lotus flower, and her father can see. Contrary to the popular perception of the story as extolling the virtue of the daughter’s filial piety toward her blind old father, I see it more as the girl’s good-heartedness that touches upon the universal heart.
What we know as history takes a winning and popular side reflecting mass psychology because a winner writes it, and it is our human nature to win. Perhaps that is why the glare of Florence Nightingale eclipses the brilliance of Mary Seacole. Written in 1857, Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands is a vivid autobiographical touchy-feely account of one remarkable Mary Seacole who resisted herself being invisible and manifested her existence with a story to tell.
Seacole was a healer and entrepreneur born of a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother. Her medicinal knowledge and business acumen distinguished her from her contemporary peers. They often showed discrediting and unappreciative regard to such achievements and her person, not least because of their bias. Seacole identified herself as a British with pride and patriotism, especially when confronting Americans whom she observed to be egregiously racists with unruly behaviors. She took pride in feminine propriety and cultural sophistication, which made her look audaciously flamboyant to those who determined to ignore her virtue, one of whom was Florence Nightingale.
In the wake of the Crimean War, Seacole was imbued with the flames of patriotism and humanity to volunteer for Nightingale’s nurse corps. However, Nightingale and her nurses kept refusing her aspiration, calling her intention dubious because they suspected her setting up the famous Seacole’s Hotel at the battlefield by providing sensual comfort to soldiers with her women employees. Her noble courage and abundant charity were unreciprocated in non-institutionalized racist 19th-century zeitgeist that paved the way to systematic 20th-century scientific racism. It perceived non-white women as no more than sexual subjects of imprudence and passion. Being dark, Seacole was not seen for the flame of Nightingale’s candles.
Had it not been for Nightingale, would Seacole have been regarded as the angel of the Crimean War? Or was it because of Nightingale that Seacole became known? I think that would be harsh undue judgment for both great women. It would be a typical social dynamic of praising one to the detriment of the other. Yet, I believe Seacole deserves recognition for what she did and who she was worth noting. To me, Seacole embodies Queen Elizabeth I’s Tilbury Address that though she might have a woman’s body, she had a king’s stomach and heart. That says it.
I have seen the insidious sea Lull the children of the shore With the sweet aeolian lullaby And the pretty nymphs appear From the bottom of the ocean To bring them into the palace Where their father, Poseidon Keeps the souls of the sea As is his mighty brother Zeus For the world above and beyond; Woe betides those who forego The fates of the young souls, For their grandfather, whose eyes See the insidious machination Fascinate the innocent hearts In the whirlpool of rapid waves! The old man’s fury is greater Than the furious god of the sea; He dives into the angry waters, Fighting against the god in spades With his bare arms cutting the waves Like swords that could kill ghosts And wins of his two grandchildren; From the god whose wrath sees No end until it grows the waves Into the myrmidons of madness And carries the old man into the abyss.
P.S.: This poem is based on my reading of a newspaper article that a sixty-one-year-old British grandfather died while trying to save his two grandchildren, aged seven and ten, in the sea off the island of Crete, Greece. The man got into the sea, fighting with the rapid, treacherous waves like Caligula, who declared war on the sea, whipping the waves furiously to invade Britain. Finally, his grandchildren got out safely, but alas, the old man was engulfed by the wrath of furious waves and drawn to the bottom of the sea. I could not just forego my feelings upon reading the story with poetic elements that also bring me the mythological image of Laocoon, the Trojan priest punished by Poseidon who sent the great serpent engulfing him and his two young sons for his discovering the Greek ruse about the wooden Trojan horse. Hence this little poem is in memory of the brave and loving grandfather.
Beneath a new visiting sun Sees a woman through tears, Sorrow of the heart she feels As it deepens into a sea of pain.
Beside her an ailing old woman Lies in natural amnesia for woes She wishes to send away in vain When a life’s grip is relentless.
Fear crowded, tension soaring Zealots of God clad in weapons, Fierce eyes searching for victims Outside is the terror reigning.
Demands of life, duties of care A caryatid bears on her head, She faces the faces of terror With a brave heart for the fate.
Author’s Note: Yesterday, I wrote about my essay on the current situation of Taliban-seized Kabul in Afghanistan but still could not take it off my head because I felt for their fear for unknown futures. An article of the day from Reuters was about the ordinary Afghans who had to make livelihood even against a possibility of danger that lurks around everywhere where thousands of people are attempting to escape from the new Taliban regime, often futilely. Therefore, this little poem, albeit insignificant willy-nilly, is my small tribute to the brave ordinary people on the frontline with life in Afghanistan who are just like you and me. The heroine of this woman is another Me in Afghanistan who shares a similar life story.