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Teresa Mai Chuc, "Dark Corners, Dragon Princesses, Gestation, Trust and Gratitude"
 
I loved to write since I was a little girl. Then, when I was twenty-years-old, I read Rainer Maria Rilke and that’s when I started to deeply work on my craft and on myself as a writer. I consider Rilke my first writing teacher and throughout the years, in my toughest times as a writer, I hear his words echo inside of me.
 
Since I had many dark corners even as a child - the war in Vietnam, my father in a Vietcong prison, poverty, loss, fragmentation, violence, I was especially struck by Rilke’s encouragement for me to explore those places, and I tried to find the strength within myself to do so, sometimes without a light to guide me. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” I have found this wisdom to be true and especially healing for me, and somehow poetry helps me to face those dragons, with compassion, and it helps me to process and make sense of people, life, death, beauty, the world. 
 
I am a very slow writer. Usually, a poem will gestate inside of me for days, weeks, years and when it becomes indistinguishable from my blood and myself, I begin to write it down. Or sometimes, I will write it down earlier or parts of it down but I know that it is not ready, that it hasn’t ripened yet. Sometimes, I will go for weeks and months without writing and it’s okay for me. When a poem is ready to be birthed, though, I write it out pretty quickly and then edit and revise it.
 
Rilke writes, “Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.…”
 
I think living is the most important experience...my life is all part of my writing...so as I live and learn and grow, all of this is part of my growth as a person and a writer. As Rilke states in “for the sake of a single poem…”, one must live deeply and widely and let that depth of experience enter us and become a part of our blood. So, I am not so worried when I am not writing, it is a time of hibernation and gestation for me. I am more worried when I am not living. And a huge part of living to me, is spent in my “cave,” where I am exploring the spaces deep within myself.
And perhaps, one of the greatest advice that I received from Rilke was to trust myself. I am a deeply private person and I usually don’t share my poems with anyone except for maybe one or two people before I submit it to journals or anthologies. I think this advice of trusting myself really helped me through my early years when I was starting to submit to journals and was getting rejections and it continues to help me. I learned that there are so many different poetic tastes out in the world and that there are people and editors who appreciate your work. The important thing is to believe in yourself, keep working on your craft and never give up. I learned that it is important to appreciate the editors and people who support your work. I am thankful to every editor in every small and big journal that I’ve been published. Gratitude is good for the soul.
 
I believe in karma and in giving. I am a mother and a public middle school teacher, so giving and sacrifice is something that is a huge part of my life. I find joy and strength in giving and in watching others blossom. In 2011, I founded a small press, Shabda Press, that is a labor of love for me. I devote time and energy in making books, supporting poets and sharing their work with the world. It brings me joy and I think that is something important to keep in one’s life. In Cantonese, the words for happiness are “hoy sum.” “Hoy” means “open” and “sum” means “heart.” “Happiness” = “open heart.” I try to keep my heart open in life and in poetry.
 
Writing poetry, for me, is a sacred, ceremonial activity, in which I give of myself and am connected with the universe…I am grateful that it is a part of my life.
 
 
 
the decade the rainforest died*
 
the deer did not
stop running
leopards
climbed into trees
that could not
hide them
 
the doug langur
and the white
cheeked gibbon
cursed at the
metal gods
we flew
 
raining
on them
as they burned
from napalm
 
elephants
choked on the
smoke of gunpowder
and poison
their steps
a strange
rhythm
as they tried
to fly
 
the thunder
of bombs echoed the steps
of elephants
 
tigers exploded
as they stepped
onto landmines
 
in a forest covered
with leaves
dead from
Agent Orange,
fallen trees and
decomposing
bodies of animals
and people
 
the earthworms
were washed away
in monsoons
with soil that could
no longer grab onto
roots
 
the Javan
rhinoceros
and the wild
water buffalos
that were still
alive
wandered
aimlessly
 
and weary
with M16s
and AK-47s, we
marched quietly
and steadily
not knowing
why we were
killing each other
 
 
*For ten years, the U.S. Air Force flew nearly 20,000 herbicide spray missions in order to destroy the forest cover as well as agriculture lands in key areas of southern Viet Nam.
 
“the decade the rainforest died” was first published in Kyoto Journal (issue 79, 2014)
 
 
Mekong River
 
Today’s flowers let me inside
into their vase-shaped bodies
 
Today, I swim this river
with its fish and turtles
and crocodiles
and I know the river
does not need a name
 
There are no memories
of dead bodies floating
bloated, lonely
or of massacres
 
Today, I do not feel
the blood of the dead
seep through my skin's pores
 
as I swim this sacred
water of my childhood
my hair wet
 
The sun sparkles
around lush green
rainforests and jungles
unkilled by defoliants
 
stretching out their
70-million-year-old
arms as they yawn
 
a doug langur monkey
peers out from behind leaves
its orange hair another sun
 
Today is bright
and hot and tropical
 
the palm leaves sway
and people in their boats
with baskets of fruits
and vegetables
and talk float like a leaf
along with the current
 
A woman sits
at the end of a boat
full of freshly cut bananas
her knees to her chest
wooden paddle in
her hands
she steers and stirs
the river
 
“Mekong River” was first published in Kyoto Journal (issue 79, 2014)
 
 
~Teresa Mei Chuc
 
Brief bio:
 
Teresa Mei Chuc was born in Saigon, Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. under political asylum with her mother and brother shortly after the Vietnam War while her father remained in a Vietcong "reeducation" camp for nine years. Her poetry appears in journals such as EarthSpeak Magazine, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Hypothetical Review, Kyoto Journal, The Prose-Poem Project, The National Poetry Review, Rattle, Verse Daily and in anthologies such as New Poets of the American West (Many Voices Press, 2010), With Our Eyes Open: Poems of the New American Century (West End Press, 2014), and Mo’ Joe (Beatlick Press, 2014). Red Thread is her first full-length collection of poetry. Teresa’s second collection of poetry, Keeper of the Winds, is forthcoming from FootHills Publishing in 2014.
 
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