Love Without Bridges, Dreams Without Sails

Twenty-five years ago, today, I initiated our lamentable parting. Though the date and season of that fateful evening may have at long last been banished from your mind, the memory of what was said and left unsaid doubtlessly lingers still.

Tears yet sting my eyes, remembering you. The acrimonious venom of remorse, regret, and sorrow convulses my heart. And, entwined with pain and guilt, there is seething, bloody anger. Not towards you – not directly, anyway – but towards that pernicious, insidious instigator and perpetuator of our love’s demise. Yes, now that I am in Caerdydd, beyond the threat of chastisement and revenge, now, the truth may be bared. Yes – my nescient, naïve friend – my magnanimous, immaculate, nonpareil – though in your myopic infatuation, your rhapsodic fanaticism, you failed to perceive or even to suspect it, it was the Party I hated. All mediocrity. all restraint, all submission would cower before my hatred: I loathe, abhor, and despise the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. There, it has been unequivocally conveyed. The bridge is burned. Or was there a bridge? Please read on.

Twenty-five years ago, today, what lie did I tell you? Something about our ages…? We were too young even for innocent, clandestine wooing. We should wait. Ten years, I said. But I was sure, just as you were sure, that ten years would be a waiting never ending. Hence your confusion, your pain; hence my deception, my torment. I could not tell you that your mania for politics sickened me, nor could I plead with you to abandon the Party for my sake. Even less, could I yield. Instead, I lied. In your tears, I saw the soul of a virgin quarry resigning himself to his fate. Did my tears reveal defeat? My hopes were quelled; the Party had won. Your tortured bewilderment notwithstanding, you embraced me – our first and last embrace. My credulous, quixotic paragon, the fool whom I hate to love, that night, I lost you. Vanquished, demurring, I fled. How long did you stand at your window? How long did you wait? Are you waiting still? The mind re-plays what the heart cannot forget.

From the Outside, you may assure yourself in the dogmatic conviction of your political faith that it is easier for me to write this letter; that my courage has been bolstered by the beguiling influence of the world you have been taught to abominate. But the freedom that I have in Caerdydd, freedom which you are incapable of imagining in even your fondest of dreams, has nothing to do with my beliefs or with this letter. Like you, I was born amidst the tempestuous throes of revolutionary social and political change, in a land inundated by insensate, inhumane waves of ideological persecution. Like you, I was denied the insouciance of youth. Like you, I suffered, and witnessed suffering. Branded with the stigma of social, therefore, political, undesirability, our families were similarly rendered mere fodder for the political machine. I need not remind you of the humiliation, the torture, the death visited upon our once cherished parents and grandparents. Why? – I ask you. A thousand times – Why? Why and how could you not, can you not, see beyond the sheer hypocrisy of this, history’s cruelest of lies? Perhaps the old, traditional, non-theistic superstitions sustained me, where you yearned for a god, an idol – one god, or a consortium of gods with but one name. Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong – Communism. You were sincere in your beliefs, I must grant you that; but your motivation and your inspiration remain a dark, sinister mystery. I did not understand, nor do I yet understand; nor am I disposed to understand. The follies of history will run their courses. In due time, the veils will be lifted. Choosing to be now, not then, you may at last comprehend.

Maybe it was my family, more intimate and supportive than yours; or my reading, more diverse than yours; or art, of which you were deprived; that directed me away from politics. To be sure, it is to these that I owe my life, and to which I have devoted my life. In me, personally, there was and has been a quest. To change the world? No. That is a utopian phantasy misguidedly harboured by politicians, priests, and fools. No, I am content to change myself, to better myself, to realise my greatest potential as a human not-merely-being. Heroes are memorable only in that they remind you of no one else. Above and beyond their deeds, which are performed as champions on behalf of matrons and patrons, are their individual capabilities – unassailable, inimitable. I do not strive towards heroism, certainly, but I will likewise never be a sheep, following the flock. She or he who requires a shepherd is fit only for the wolves.

After class one day, you once surreptitiously handed me a poem – your own earnest, reckless, but feeble composition. Having been forewarned of its content by your political fervour, and being devoid of compassionate sentimentality and forbearing idealism, I cursorily read it and tossed it away. There was too much red, too much revolution, too much communal, heartfelt abnegation to and for the People, and not enough for Me. Was I not the burgeoning Muse? No, I was but a potential fellow conspirator alongside of whom you might march in unison. Art and love cannot with politics commingle. Even Mao Zedong could not achieve either that magic or that illusion. It was he who divested me of my once fledgling interest in poetry. Years later, after the earthquake – Tangshan – my ambiguous feelings for you cautiously and hopelessly re-kindled, my fleeting optimism in a life after Mao re-enheartened, I wrote this poem to you – in memory, in homage, in love, despite and still. It was my first, and may well be my last. Because of its honesty, it was never delivered. Because of its honesty, it is delivered now

I cannot characterise this.
We move through each other like seasons – enclosed, outclosed –
always one another and yet never – one another.

My discoveries at first were catastrophic,
measuring light against dark,
and I was unhinged in some monumental way.

There are colours that betray my lust:
you unweave, thus complicate them, like some Machiavellian beast.
(I say this, because I mean too many things.)

I mean at first that your precepts are sea creatures to me at times,
with liberally spreading jaws and yet,
my destiny is somehow not this element in time, not this in space,
or worse yet not in the calumny of these tears.
Still my fears have become someway bound by you,
as if I were making a confession to myself,
expectations collapsing softly into heaps around my ears.

The clash that we are is what we are.
Such is what brings me near, I know,
for from the past I see that this is so.

Given this our offspring by which we are moodily bound
we race windily over the same plains, down the same valleys,
at length meeting like some hyper-notion on otherwise incongruous ground.

Do you have me?
Yes, you have me now. You have me no more.
Everything is an instance. This is precisely what is pleasing.

You spread and thicken before my eyes like lava.
Between us there are some startling memories.
I recall you, some specious glittering on your neck I want to bite,
some blood that is mine but that I have never known.
Perhaps this is too eccentric.
I have always wondered but it is inexorable now.

You continue to unhinge me – not all around, but here and there.
I am once a river and a flood, a leaf and fossil,
a cunning witness and a whore.

We unfold in a way that is continually evocative, like a cave.
Passing lately no one else so sundry, I am at times naked and at times agnostified.
But I am at all times the way you leave me, from one encounter to the next.

Forgive me. Your Chairman Mao must be rolling over in his grave. Rubbish, nonsense – love, art. But it is too late to deplore the past. What might have been was not to be. With this letter, I not only wish to offer explanation for my curious behaviour, not only to account for my abrupt disappearance, but also to absolve you of blame, and to thank you, from the depths of my contrite though resolute heart.

My vernal dreams all bear your face. Without you, my youth and adolescence would seem a void. Although each of us was the object of competitive pursuit, we naturally converged without apparent hunt or chase. You were the impeccable gentleman, always reaching, never grasping; always caring, never cloying. Your generosity was astounding; your gifts, spontaneously responding to needs and wants unspoken, were a tender caress upon my soul. Most often, it was your stolen company – a walk home after school, an escort after work, fugitive twilight rendezvous, rushed nocturnal trysts. Or simply a glance, a smile, a wave. Even when your political meetings – incessantly – and your mason’s duties – hubristically – prohibited your physical appearance, I could usually sense your ethereal, consolatory presence. I knew that a thought of longing would be cast for me, that at least some of the beats of your heart resounded for me.

During our first meeting since our separation amidst the rubble of the earthquake, your relief in finding me unharmed exposed a heart still smitten. As if not a day had passed, you extended to me your help. To my disappointment and surprise, though, you kept your distance, seemingly politely. A few days later, after you had laid the bricks for my hut, you would not even sit. There was nothing to say. It had all been said, or left unsaid. You would not forswear your promise to wait ten years. No harassment. No provocation. No sharing. The Party would uphold you in this as in all of life’s other noble challenges. As you mounted your bicycle to ride away – another obligation – I thanked you as I would a stranger, and said goodbye. That was all. That was my first goodbye; today you will read my last.

Before leaving for Hong Kong, I finished my studies at the Art Institute. You may remember that after I was initially accepted, the stationery goods factory refused to let me go. It was your quiescent acceptance of this bitter twist of fate which culminated in our breakup. You, the one man to whom I could turn for at least moral support, encouraged me to forgive and to forget. Your lines of complete and utter drivel enraged me all the more. Until that moment, I had struggled to believe that one day you might shed your blinders. Now I knew our differences to be totally irreconcilable. How fortunate I had felt to have my secret beau; how flattering to be seen with the flock’s prize ram; how soothing to be lulled into stupor by ever more, ever more, by and by. The hunter had fallen victim to the game. I had been entrapped by my own snare, deceived by my own artifice. I had wanted you, but not any more. How dare you scoff at my dream! How dare I take offence, in an offence that did not in any way render me right. You are who you are. You had not deluded me; I had deluded myself. But complaisance engenders compromise, surrender. That would not do. Is the gaze of the enemy always gleaming before the kill? Then what was that glint in your eyes?

I did not capitulate, nor diid I comply. Despite the odds, I could not brook defeat. First I dealt with you – a sentence of ten years’ ostracism, arbitrarily contrived – then I focused my energies upon the factory. Their decision had been conclusive – I had no doubt of that. My only expedient would be to effect a transfer. That is what I did. The leadership of the plastic covers manufactory liked me. They saw that I had talent, and agreed that it would be mutually advantageous if I studied commercial art. With their blessing, then, I enrolled and flourished. Towards the end of my study, opportunity presented itself for me to abscond to the Free World after graduation. I availed, and lo, I was, I am, as I am here and now.

While you were engrossed in the collected works of communism, I was reading The Art of War, by Sun Zi.

Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning and losing are equal.

If ignorant both of the enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

No, you are not the enemy. Through you, though, fostered as you were in their camp, I learned much of the enemy. Through you, also, my chivalrous companion throughout my formative years, I have learned much about myself. Where you faltered or failed me, I sought refuge and succour in others, in art, and in literature. From Hong Kong, I went to Caerdydd, in Wales, where I am now designing book covers – a modest avant-gardiste. And what have you for your zeal? Having renounced everything and everyone excepting the Party, what have you got to show for your sacrifice? Have you changed the world? What heroics have your performed? Sworn a place amongst the revolutionary van, how does it feel to be a bricklayer in the rear? No, I am not flaunting; only to an enemy would I brandish my sword. I am sad for you, that is all. While I revel in life’s dawning, you must grovel in its gloaming. Fortune is not a sport, to be played with rules and referees. You played for the Party, against yourself, and you lost the game.

With the wrathful deluge of history, a rift was imprecated upon our verdant plain. Along this rift, emanating from the Mouth of Darkness, a river of fallacy, treachery, mirage extruded. There are no bridges traversing this river. There are no sails to brave and to startle its mirky depths. On opposite shores, obscured by mists of fancy and hallucination, we stand. You, my white knight with purloined horse of raven-black; I, alone in argent-cyanotic-blue. You see, it could never be. Love without bridges, dreams without sails; in these there is no future. Politics and love can never be wed. In politics, the means are the end; political power, the end in itself. Romance is strangled, love is disfigured, the morrow inflamed. In politics, if you want a picture of the future, imagine rape, never ending.

This letter must end, though. Love remaining the mystery between us, and not the identity. Yes, you remain an enigma to me – a talisman adoringly wrapped in ambivalence, hung like a Damoclean threat from a ribbon of myth, and poised above my heart. My gallant pursuer of old, dream on. I could not dream your dream with you, nor you mine for me. Rave on, my friend. One day, maybe, you will dream of bridges, of sails, of horses of white, of places beyond your blindness.

Take care and goodbye. I can tarry no longer. This is my final farewell. Though as long as clouds and moons are white, you shall ever in my heart abide, if you are still waiting for me, wait for my no more.