The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Wang Ping

Immigrant Can’t Write Poetry


“Oh no, not with your syntax,” said Helen to her daughter-in-law, a Chinese poet writing in English
She walk to mountain
She walks to a mountain
She walk to mountain now
She is walking to a mountain now
What difference it make
What difference does it make
In Nature, no completeness
No sentence really complete thought
Language, our birthright gift & curse
Pay no mind to immigrant syntax
Poetry, born as beast
Move best when free, undressed



Wang Ping

Truth, Lies & Shakespeare Bedbugs


A burning itch jilts me up at 3:00 am
Welts around the waist, wrist, nape
An army of instars, nymphs and bugs
Marching across the bed like warriors
Bellies swollen with my essence
I pinch one down with thumbnail and drag
—a bloody streak of evidence—
Across the snow-white sheet of Oklahoma

Bedbugs choose sex by size
They mate by trauma—
Piercing bellies of male and female
With equal zealous

After three rounds
The Arab, Chinese, African and Mexican
Are weeded out
Only 5 remain
For the prize that could build
A home for the poet from Ramallah
Who doesn’t know his birthday or birthplace
Or the Chinese who writes avant-garde novels
With her rheumatoid hands and murmuring heart

Silvia Beach founded Shakespeare and Company on the left bank of Paris in 1919. It became home for James Joyce, Earnest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, Mina Loy, and the Beat Generation poets. In 1951, George Whitman took over the bookstore. 30,000 people have slept in the beds tucked between bookshelves. "Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise," says the bookstore motto.

The parents started drinking
When children turned 8, 6, 4
More and more frozen pizzas
Hot punches in faces, stomachs
Blackened eyes, collapsed chests
Locked out in Minnesota winter
Call 911. Father knows how
To put on the Professor face
Oldest son shut in Hazelden
Younger ones fled to friends’ homes
Midnight shelters. Winter comes
Like a runaway train…how shall
They cross this frozen sea of lies?

Bedbugs bit me in Paris, San Francisco, and Oklahoma City, all during poetry events. Those cultured, sophisticated, blood-thirsty mother-buggers. They travel far and free for the best: blood, poetry, sex.

The hotel manager hired a bug
Professional to gather evidence of truth
Flashlights, magnifying glass
Stripping sheets, spring box upside down
Groping each crease in the mattress, on the knees
But truth is allusive.
Welts rising like red yeast
Around nape waist wrists face
But who wants to see
A mad woman in the yellow attic?

I visited Paris in 1994 with Lewis Warsh. Our first stop was Shakespeare and Company. George Whitman gave us his own master bed. We crawled in, hearts filled with gratitude. Within 5 minutes, I jumped up, my body covered with crawling things: nymphs, instars, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of bedbugs.

To see is to believe
Or we see only what we believe?
Under the florescent light
My welts become a scheme

Aristotle believes
Bedbugs can treat snakebites
Ear infections or hysteria

It’s mid 80 F in Oklahoma City
But I’m shivering in the campus museum
Lush with Picasso, Monet, Rembrandt
Bronzed feathers, prayer, blood

Bedbugs love women, pregnant with sweet scent and hot blood. They won’t touch the stressed, the depressed or the manic.

We say we love truth
We claim truth with multi-colored mouths
We think we own truth
As truth slips through clenched sand

“Not fair! Why are they not biting you?” I shouted, brushing 18 generations of bedbugs off my body.

Lewis laughed and laughed in George’s bed. Not a single bug had touched him. “Well, don’t tell me bugs are racists too!” he said.

Truth or lie:
Every human I met in the city
Swears they have at least a quarter Cherokee in their blood

How to kill a bedbug?
DDT, mint, catnips, hemp seeds
Cockroaches, centipedes, spiders, ants
The best award, however, goes to
Assassin Bug a.k.a the Masked Hunter
Hiding in plain sight
With a sting worse than the wasp

I left Paris, face burning with welts, but I couldn’t stop smiling. If Joyce, Pound, Stein and Ginsberg got bitten by the same bugs, does it mean I’m now carrying their blood, their DNA, their truths and lies and genius, through bedbug bites?


Wang Ping

人鼠之间Of Mice and Mankind

“It was a turning point for me,” said the biology professor to the class we co-teach, “when my professor grabbed the lab mouse and flung it against the wall.”

And you have tears in your eyes
As you depict the hand, pale, hairy
Unapologetic, the hand of a master
And the lab mouse, blind, cancer-ridden
Yet happy to be a mouse, still alive

Then the rage, the fling against the wall
And the spine, the brain, the heart
Splashing like asteroids

It awakened something in me, you say
Tears in your eyes, I’m no long the same

As you watch the human “mouse”
In the teeth of the revenge machine
Invisible, raged, raging
The same spine, muscle, limbs, bones, brain
--Genes that share 99% DNA--
Flung across your path

As you stand in the ruins
As you walk through this razor sharp silence
As you wade into the sea of bloody sacrifice

Are you willing to say: it awakens something?

And say: this hand, this yellow, brown, black hand
Makes the same delicious meals
Makes the same beautiful sonnets
Splits cells with the same precision?

Are you willing to acknowledge
Our milk is just as white and nourishing
Our blood just as red with boiling sea
And our need to be human or mice is just as legit?

How do you keep the same
As you watch this human mouse
Who breaks bread and knowledge with you daily
Flung against your wall of conscience
                                                      Over and over and over…



Wang Ping

Jerusalem, Jerusalem


It’s impossible to sink in the Dead Sea, almost

Slabs of stone
Reaching from tombs--
Witness to untold stories

We didn’t plan this. But every morning, when the sun opened the sky with orange and blue, the boys began to climb, up the steps, through the Jaffa Gate, the empty alleys of shops, cafes, homes, through the x-ray machines and guards, jumping sliding trudging singing towards the wall, to press their faces against the stones in the praying sea. Nobody told them to. When the sun went down, their short, chubby legs carried them back, singing “Moses came down from the mountain top,” a song they’d learned at the nursery school in Minnesota.

In the Turkish Bazaar
We haggled over a T-shirt that said:
“America, don’t worry
Israel stands behind you”

Barb-wired hotels along the shore
Parched camps beyond a dusty horizon
Brown workers hidden in orchards, spas, bridges
Sounds of prayer from armored compounds

Today’s wind moves through Mount Olive
Slicing dream after dream
Who bestows us with this legacy?
Who can tell how much is illusion?

Nava Applebaum, what are you doing out there at the small hour in Jerusalem? A last cup of coffee with your father before your wedding? Do you know your mother is waiting to don the bridal crown on your moon face, your bridegroom counting the stars left in the sky? Do you hear the bomb ticking outside? Nava, you bright-eyed flower, plucked before you bear fruit.

In the sea of the deep where mud is black and water boils with the odor of rotten eggs, in the mist of sulfur magic, people converge, the sick and old, the rich and poor, white and olive and yellow and brown. They wade with patience. They wait for miracles.

Isabel, the olive skinned daughter of the Turkish Bazaar, walked us through the maze of the old town. Her brother, a six-grader, gave us oranges from his juice stand when his mom wasn’t looking. He whispered his dream of getting out of the slum, of making a movie about his Portuguese father and Arab mother, his grandparents in the West Bank. But how could you understand this unless you speak Arabic, he mumbled, turning away. Isabel watched us in the sunset, smile receding from her brown eyes like a tide.

Where the land ends and begins, matchless
A path for the return of wailing hearts

Oy! Regret comes only after the deed
The light of the plum blossom is gone
Only a kindling flame to light her track
How easy to get tangled
In the fire of thoughts!

Who should laugh, who should cry?
Who could keep the land, who must go?
Who should be a master, who a slave?
Who could live, who must die?

This pain—
Has no tongue

Standing on their father’s shoulders,
Children stuffed their prayers
Into the highest crack they could reach
A dove landed on the wall, cooing through the grass
“Will she pick it out?” asked the little one
“Will she bring it up to heaven?”

For the false desire and fate
For tears turned into flame and cries stifled
In smoke, dip the apple in honey
Dip hatred, blood, dip hope and despair
Dip remorse hidden in the gut
The laughing cry from children’s lips
For Isabel and Nava, for every soul
To resettle in the cradle of roots
Dip Bethlehem, dip Jerusalem
Dip bombs, tanks, check points
Dip the world ploughed with sorrow
In the bowl of honey

The little ones stop each stranger on the street
“Please repeat our new password:
Shalom, shalom, shalom…”




WANG PING was born in China and came to the U.S. in 1986. Her publications of poetry and prose include American Visa, Foreign Devil, Of Flesh and Spirit, New Generation: Poetry from China Today, Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China, The Magic Whip, The Dragon Emperor, The Last Communist Virgin, Flashcards: Poems by Yu Jian, Ten Thousand Waves, and Life of Miracles along the Yangtze and Mississippi (AWP 2017 series for non fiction). She won the Eugene Kayden Award for the Best Book in Humanities and is the recipient of NEA, the Bush Artist Fellowship for poetry, the McKnight Fellowship for non-fiction, and many others. She received her Distinct Immigrant Award in 2014, and Venezuela International Poet of Honor in 2015. She’s also a photographer, installation artist. Her multi-media exhibitions include “Behind the Gate: After the Flood of the Three Gorges,” “Kinship of Rivers” at schools, colleges, galleries, museums, lock and dams, and confluences along the Mississippi River. She is professor of English at Macalester College, founder and director of Kinship of Rivers project.



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