Whispers on the Wind – A Reading of Russell C. Leong’s "Dreams and Dust"

Guest post by reader Charles Kress.

Kuan Yin

What of the past that whispers
Such winds blow our words away
Where have they gone
Must we always start anew
Will dead voices never cease

from “Blood Secrets”

Not long ago I wrote the poem “Blood Secrets” based on a dream. In the dream I was in a large room with many statues of saints, angels, goddesses and bodhisattvas. The statues had all crumbled into rubble. I knelt among the pieces and wept.
When I woke up I was much disturbed by the dream. In trying to understand it, I wrote “Blood Secrets”, which incorporated the broken sacred statues. Within my poem I created a dialog between Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion, and Maitreya, the Bodhisattva, who has yet to take birth, concerning the state of future spirituality.
In my poem, Maitreya seeks help from Kuan Yin, while they are sitting by a lakeside pavillion. Maitreya asks for help when he takes birth. Kuan Yin replies that the older saints, like the statues in my dream, have gone.

my time on earth is over for now.
The twilight of the gods is real
The wheel has turned.
Another spoke has ascended

But she tells Maitreya that there are still those people in the world who act as her hands and see as her eyes, that they will help him.
Russell C. Leong

In the poem “Dreams and Dust”, published in the current issue of Cha, Russell C. Leong also invokes the goddess Kuan Yin:

Kuan Yin looks over the lake
Where 500 carp rush toward
The older man leaning on the balustrade

This seemingly ordinary scene may also be seen as an invocation of Kuan Yin. Whether as a statue or a living Bodhisattva is left to our mind’s eye to choose. The 500 carp in the lake show us the spirits of water that live within the hungry fish. Water may be seen as the compassion that flows from Kuan Yin.

He picks up the banana peels
Someone else has left on the wet ground
Shreds them and tosses them to the fish
Next to him, a woman does the same

Can you see them? The old man and the younger woman tossing bits of banana peel to the fish. They seem so ordinary and unremarkable, yet by their actions, they feed the multitude of fish. Is this not Kuan Yin’s compassion acting through them?

Each lost in their separate dreams & dust:
The man, too old to become a monk now
The woman, too tied to the world to leave it.

Like each of us, they too are “lost in their separate dreams & dust.” The illusions of this world manifesting in the dust of the earth. And like them, we as well are “too tied to the world to leave it.” Yet we of the world of dreams and dust are the ones that Kuan Yin watches. We are the ones through which she acts.
The poem shows them joined together: “the man, the woman, the fish, the statue.” Each separate, each a part of a larger reality that is:

covered by rain, lustrous as pearls
Which contain the morning light.

Again we see the image of water, illuminated by the light of Kuan Yin’s compassion for all beings, that lives within us all.
In another parallel to my own poem, the statue of Kuan Yin has been destroyed and

Rebuilt after incense and wind
had burnt down the one before

One is tempted to see demons at work in the statues destruction by fire, but on a deeper level we can understand the Buddhist idea of impermanence is at work here as well.
Leong’s poem closes with a contrasting view of a man coming “From the hill above the lake.” He is no annomyous man:

Ven. Dhammadipa makes his way down
The wooden path that encircles the temple’s drum

Named and honored, he walks the Buddhist path. The temple drum implies a powerful voice, a powerful message has he to give us.
Yet he is also separate from us and the world, for he is said to be “Yet alone, yet free.” One wonders though, if he is no longer caught in the “Dreams and Dust” of the world, can we relate to him as a being that we can understand and trust if he is no longer one of us?
Where Russell C. Leong shows us the Buddhist teacher Ven. Dhammadipa alone and free, my poem invokes, the as yet unborn Boddhisattva, Maitreya, and the dark times we live in:

Kuan Yin asked quietly
‘Is there any hope for the future?’
Maitreya smiled sadly
And shook his head slowly,
‘The future, which is my time,
remains a mystery.
But do not forget,
The human realm
Has always been violent
And thus doubly rewarding.’

‘Watch for me in the storms
Watch for me in the earthquakes
Watch for me in the fires
Watch for me in the floods.
When least expected
I will be there
Without fail’

The images in “Dreams and Dust” are so much more earthy than those in my own poem, yet I feel my poem more accurately reflects the dark times that beset our world and speak more directly to our everyday lives.

Into East River(s): Chinese / American Artists and Asian American Poets

Date: Thursday, June 2, 2011
Time: 4PM to 8PM
Place: 25 West 43rd Street, 19th Floor
between 5th & 6th Avenues, Manhattan
Free Admission – Limited Space, Registration Required

To register, please call 212-869-0182.

For thousands of years, rivers – both East and West – have been used as a source of food and drinking, for energy, and for navigation. Culturally and politically, rivers have also been used to delineate the boundaries of nations, regions, and communities. New York City’s East River, for instance, is a “navigation” passage way for the city’s natives, immigrants, and refugees alike. Other rivers, both East and West, be it the Yangtze, Tigris, Thames, Los Angeles, or the Mekong, and their tributaries, have both linked and demarcated cultures, countries, and politics. 

Curated by Russell C. Leong, AAARI’s CUNY Thomas Tam Visiting Professor at Hunter College; and Yibing Huang, Professor of Modern Chinese Literature at Connecticut College, Leong and Huang hope that this program will lead to more bilingual and bicultural dialogue.

4PM – Registration
4:30PM – Images of Exclusion and Inclusion
Zhang Dali in Conversation with Curators Yibing Huang and David Rong (Bilingual Program)
*Chinese artist Zhang Dali’s work focuses upon the constant revision, erasure and exclusion of certain moments and figures in modern history, particularly, late 20th-Century Chinese history. By exposing the man-made blank or absence beneath various official news and photographical documents, Zhang shows that there is always a “second history” that needs to be dug out and restored against collective amnesia and silence.
Corky Lee in Conversation with Prof. Peter Kwong
*Chinese American artist Corky Lee selects images from his 250,000 images of Asian America.  Lee has for 40 years sought to “include” what has been neglected by the mass media: the expression, politics and culture “inside” communities rather than from the outside, viewing his subjects as the determining “subjects” rather than as the “objects” of history.  Turning a stereotype on its head, Corky refers to his work and forthcoming book as “what’s not on the menu”—in other words, both as what is absent and what is authentic and cannot be located in the tourists’ guidebook.
5:30PM – Supper
What’s Not on the Menu – Join artists, writers, and curators for a light supper.
7PM – Into East River(s): An Asian American Poetry Reading
To Recognize All those Who Enter America
On June 6, 1993, at around 2 a.m., the Golden Venture – a ship bearing 286 immigrants from China (mostly from the province of Fujian) along with 13 crew members – ran aground on Rockaway  Beach in Queens, New York after a mutiny by the smugglers. The ship had set sail from Thailand, stopped in Kenya and circled the Cape of Good Hope en route.
  • Meena Alexander
  • Ken Chen
  • Jennifer Hayashida
  • Andrew Hsiao
  • Lisa Chen
  • Andrea Lim
  • Mai Mang
  • Russell C. Leong
  • Zhang Zhen
  • Huang Xiang
Literary Affiliate
Asian American Writers’ Workshop
  • Read Yibing Huang’s Cha profile.
  • Russell C. Leong’s poetry was published in issue #1 of Cha.

Cha’s Ode to Hong Kong

[Click the images to enlarge.]
From Issue 1 [Link]

From Issue 1 [Link]

From Issue 1 [Read the entire poem]

From Issue 2 [Read the entire poem]

From Issue 3 [Read the entire poem]
 From Issue 9 [Read the entire poem]

From Issue 12 [Read the entire poem] [The poem is discussed here]
When I go back to Hong Kong, I wish to campaign for putting poetry, both Chinese and English, in public transport. Larger versions of these images for non-commercial purposes can be obtained from Cha editors for free. Please contact editors@asiancha.com.

How did you select Yibing Huang to be your guest editor? And why?

How did you select Yibing Huang to be your guest editor? And why?
I first met Yibing through a mutual friend of ours, Professor Russell Leong. I was taking an informal creative writing class with Russell, and he introduced the students to Yibing. Since then, I have been impressed by Yibing’s work and he has even contributed two poems to Cha. I felt like his expertise would be a perfect match for the ethos of the China issue. Often, our guest editors are writers who have a strong interest generally in literature. However, for the China issue, we felt that someone with expertise in Chinese literature would be essential.
See more questions and answers here

Introducing The Russell C. Leong Literary E-Book Series

Russell Leong writes: The E-Book Series will continue the UCLA tradition of publishing Asian America’s most distinguished literary writers. Amerasia has published stories, letters, poetry, essays, and interviews by and with: Carlos Bulosan, Frank Chin, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jessica Hagedorn, Karen Tei Yamashita, Monique Troung, Garrett Hongo, Lawson Inada, Amitava Kumar, Al Robles, Alan Chong Lau, Janice Mirikitani, Wakako Yamauchi, Shahidul Alam, Hisaye Yamamoto, Vijay Prashad, Andrew Lam, Wing Tek Kum, Gary Pak, and hundreds of writers, critics, and scholars during the past 40 years. Read about the E-Book Series below and check back on this blog for manuscript application procedures.
Learn more about the E-Book Series here.
Russell C. Leong’s poetry was published in issue #1 of Cha.

CHA contributors in Kartika Review: Inaugural Year Anthology

Cha contributors Jee Leong Koh and Russell C. Leong have creative works published in Karitka Review: Inaugural Year Anthology. The anthology is available for purchase here and read Jee Leong’s poem “Childish Punishments” (p. 168; the poem is also reprinted at Foundling Review), and Russell’s poem “Tian Qiao / Sky Bridge” (p. 171) and non-fiction “On Being Nomadic? A Response” (pp. 237-238).

  • Jee Leong Koh’s poetry was published in issue#6 of Cha.
  • Russell C. Leong’s poetry was published in issue #1 of Cha.

CHA is mentioned in US/China Media Brief

Cha is mentioned by Russell C. Leong in an article “Paths of Stone, Rivers of Ink:The Sino-American World through Its Writers” in the US/China Media Brief website. In his article, Russell comments, “In Hong Kong, besides traditional university-based journals, new internet-based journals including Cha have embraced a more pan-Asian perspective and have included Chinese American writers as well.” Thank you so much for the mention!

Russell C. Leong’s poetry was published in issue #1 of Cha.