818: Everything Lies in All Directions

818: Everything Lies in All Directions

818: Everything Lies in All Directions


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Recently, I recalled several memories of my father that had been hiding from me for some years. He’s a fine swimmer, and for the better part of my life, he made sure to swim laps at least once a day. When I was about ten years old, one dark winter afternoon, he took me to the YMCA and just outside the glass doors, he stopped us. He bent down to me, and announced that he had burns on the lower half of his body; that I should not stare; that when I turned eighteen, he would tell me the story. By the way, eighteen done came and gone. I still do not know his trauma.

I grew up looking away from my father’s body, his secret writ on his skin and over his limbs. He’s found ways to evade the many difficult moments in his life. Those burn marks are a visible emblem of his approach to the most uncomfortable moments and subjects between us.

Family lore has it that my grandmother briefly dated Cab Calloway during her days in Harlem; my father’s not willing to discuss this nugget of celebrity gossip because, from what I’ve pieced together, their union might have been an illicit affair. He wishes to keep her pristine image intact. Granted this alleged tryst occurred before he was born, but I know he knows something of his mother’s freer days.

I want to encourage him to re-engage his past, including his traumas, in his own language in order to process it, from a space of triumph rather than shame or fear that his family will love him any less. So much so, I am tempted to invite him to attend one of my poetry writing courses. No, seriously. Through poetry, we process through artful speech, which often frees a difficult matter’s hold on us, that allows us to reinvent our personal stories into powerful testimonies of insight and victory. But I also know that processing is hard, sometimes unapproachable work, especially when your life has never had time or space for it.

Today’s gorgeously lyrical poem illustrates the beautiful phenomenon of the rebirth and transformation of our generational stories, and thus, ourselves.

Everything Lies in All Directions
by Hua Xi

Death is the same in both directions.
It wants to go somewhere. It wants to come back.
Once I came back through a grass. Purple coneflowers
floated there, attracting bees. The whole field was humming.
Once I came back through the dead. This roughly translates 
to something my mother lived through in Chinese.
My mother said, “I don’t read. It’s too tiring.”
It’s true—people who wrote things 
lied to her. Once I came back through a poem.
Time refused to pass there, and loneliness
drifted down past my window like snow.
Alone, I did not move. Worlds changed around me.
Everything beautiful lay both forwards and backwards.
Everything translated into butterflies, which billowed
into a breath of tall summer. They blew out of the past
and into a future. Was it yours or was it mine?
Then, I was a child. Once, my mother was.
This is how you learn that nothing ends
unless it has to.

"Everything Lies in All Directions" by Hua Xi. Published by permission of the poet.