Poem of the Week: “I love a broad margin to my life” by Maxine Hong Kingston

8 days before my birthday, I went
to John Mulligan’s funeral. He was 10
years younger than me. He died without
finishing his book, MIAmerica.
(I have a superstition that as long as I,
any writer, have things to write, I keep living.)
I joined in singing again and again
a refrain, “Send thou his soul to God.” Earll,
though, did not sing, did not
say any of the Latin, any of the prayers.
He muttered that the Catholic Church divides you
against yourself, against your sexy body.
“The Church is a gyp.” John Mulligan should’ve
been given a pagan ceremony; Woman Warrior,
Robert Louis Stevenson, and Cuchulain
had come to him in Viet Nam. John
carried them, tied to him by silver cords,
to the U.S. The priest, who came from the Philippines,
kept reminding one and all that the benefits
he was offering were for “Christians” only. But
he did memorialize John being born and raised
in Scotland, and coming to America at 17.
Summarily drafted to Viet Nam. You
didn’t have to be a citizen to be drafted.

. . .

The war count, as of today:

Almost 2,000 killed in Iraq. G.I.s.
Not counting Afghanis,
children, babies,

7 days before my birthday, I had breakfast with
Mary Gordon, who’s always saying things
I never thought before: “It’s capitalistic
of us to expect any good from peace demonstrations,
as if ritual has to have use, gain, profit.”
I agreed, “Yes, it’s Buddhist to go parading
for the sake of parading.” “Can you think of a writer
(besides Chekhov) who is holy and an artist?”
“Grace Paley.” She smiled. “Well, yes.”
Obviously. “Thoreau.” “Oh, no. Thoreau’s
too Protestant, tidy, nonsexual. He goes
home to Mom for hot chocolate. No
sex, no tragedy, no humor.”
Come to think of it, Thoreau doesn’t make
me laugh. A line from Walden hangs over one
of my desks:

I love a broad margin to my life.

(this is an excerpt from the book-length poem of the same name)


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