Her literary work is colored by her multicultural past and present; she is a citizen of the world. An awarding-winning copywriter, Susan Blanshard's work has also appeared in journals such as the World Literary Review. She is currently working on a novel while living in Hanoi with her partner, a visual artist.
The Content of Water
I have been here four seasons. Hanoi with its history of conflict and change seems to change with the weather. In winter a soupy gray mist hangs over the villa, dampness that makes the tile floors wet. The French call this the cloud that hangs between rain and fog: crachin, or a "spitting rain". This makes a distinction between the summer monsoon. The rain that sits in your own heart.
The way of heaven is not all remote, they tell us. Wash a human heart and out it comes. One had to be taught, duties to oneself are not obligations. Confucius and Mencius were all guilty of overestimating the innate goodness of man, (please: no mention of face or reputation) but one's actions in life may be compared to tossing pebbles in a pond. Looking into the Well of Clarity, looking through a seam of ancient jade, no sooner has a stone fallen into water; it transforms into a small circle which becomes a larger circle. No one lives in isolation. The circle continues to expand until it covers the entire pond. There are ghosts throwing stones. Ghosts watching.
In the Temple garden, interactions with actual conditions; it is no more complete in itself than is a woman's pot of lime tea. Six or seven cups of tea while reading some lines from the Poet. Writing grief of days, of wind and rain, waves that tilt the heavens, waterfalls of a thousand crashing streams, sights of hunger and cold, the stagnant waters of a writer's mind. Attached to the letter were two poems, as external conditions change, the soul changes as well, the Confucians chant until flowers wilt, seeds pass life in a clump of water.
(Fade to green)
If it were written who would I give it to? Silence. The silence is an acceptance of fault. Question. From your mouth no word of appreciation, no argument or criticism, no answer to my question, from beginning to end all that comes out of your mouth is a laugh. (Who wouldn't grow angry?)
I have arrived back from the cold river of nihility. Kill those words of a poem that spring from far down in the throat. Seek no more fresh flowers, myriad lake, nor sounds of jade, my friend that sadness buried at the base of the soul remains untold. Our lives now lie within the sphere of "I". Having lost breadth, I seek depth. But the deeper I go, the colder I get.
In the dark citadel of the heart I know you. And in your sad eyes, I see images of an endless string of nights and the future a series of graves not yet filled. And the present is also the silent burial of the green days, fresh leaves beginning to change hue, weaving in the shroud that covers our souls, I stare at the countless leaves in silence, the dark shadows from rows of tall bamboo are familiar. Strange patterns on the face of an old woman. I stare at the countless leaves; a crying woman lays her bare heart. Since when did I become old? And might those tears of a woman contain my own tears as well? (Tears) Jade of sorrow, still intact, unmelted. They fell vaguely, from the immensity of memory. I have watched alone, in a belief that one could understand another, but flesh and bone are rivers and mountains separating people into distinct and lonely regions.
(Fade to blue)
Night. But the stars secretly engraved themselves on all four corners of my mind, a hundred million lights connecting unclear words.
A heart adrift since the day of birth. Here are feet marked by a thousand scars, punctured by thorns of life. Here are hands, calloused and crooked, reaching out for a green dollar.
I turn with my head bowed. Who wanders lost through one existence. These bones contain a soul but termites burrow into the house. Weakness follows weaknesses, thousands upon thousands of them. Tomorrow's footsteps will accumulate upon the footprints of today. Don't be angry with us, these shriveled forms beg for money, these heavy bodies sunk too low, don't be angry with us who lost paradise.
If you only knew how many times we panicked.
Wet raincoats and the sound of a city coughing as the locals share colds. Some women speak of a Jade Queen of the Immortals. Illness and misfortune falls on a woman who does not feel something deeper, the natural balance violated but gravity or moonlight restore the balance. The Jade Queen said, semen is closest to source and he believes her. Marry a boy for rice and silk. Even in hunger and rags one still knows shame. If you love me loan me cloth or loan me rice. It was just a look in passing. Had they not known each other well they might have passed by unknown. (There still are corners to the eyes).
You chanted prayers of salvation from over three hundred books. What good are all those characters? You get milk in the morning, rice at night. Enough bread. Enough. More than enough. He came to say: Leave me alone to live my own life. I am tired of this (repetition).
He cast off his disguise, which had produced no poetry. And returned to the coat he had put away, and his white cloth and shoes. And his shirt all faded blue from sunshine and dew. Intoxicated in a garden nameless and eternal. And he went away in search of two sides of a leaf or a blade of grass.
To be a poet is to be lulled by the wind
To follow the moon in dreams and drift with the clouds
To let the soul be bound by a thousand strands
I am but a splinter because a hundred precious loves.
The weather changes at the end of winter. The first colors in the city are green leaves with pink paper petals. Women pedal branches of peach blossom in from the countryside. If the beginning of spring seizes possession of its own privacy. Each unopened bud is a tiny needle. And the sun is ten thousand magnets.
The air is tinged with charcoal dust from outdoor cooking fires.
In January and February, Hanoi looks like a set of a damp Film Noir, smoky shadows and the slow soundtrack of cyclo chains, money and sweet incense smoke. One moment the spare bed empty with cold indifference. Next a moment shared under a blanket, only to wake in a malarial sweat. Summer comes. She comes with days long and damp. A crush of traffic noise heightened by the 40 degree heat, it floods the senses and disorientates.
This is her Hanoi. The street outside is a tunnel of tamarind and mahogany trees festooned with power cables, like jungle creepers, colonial villas, balconied and shuttered, historical keepsakes organic and behind flower & fruited filigree, padlocked wrought iron gates. It is said a woman is like a flower that has been brought out into a fresh bright place. Breathing in the free air of nature she is able to grow fragrant. Smothered with flowers on bodies of jade with fortunes read in three deep furrows on workers hands. Make rice wine from rhymes and verses from grenades. To have purpose and fire. Mother to thousands of lost destinies, to millions of children who wander naked and hungry over the earth. They said all suffering is this traced back to our own hearts. Between four walls of air. Before someone looks down on me and thinks I am sleeping. Listen to the vespers. I whisper. The traces day by day fade with the grave marker. I am still afraid of an ending. I fall to the ground with clean hands.
The red sun touches clay tile roofs in every evening. A syrupy light ripens the melon and cantaloupe-painted colonial buildings. Late at night, outside in the alley, the men sleep. They sleep under white mosquito nets; bed as simple as bamboo mats rolled out on wooden tables. The wide boulevards are empty except for a few cyclos and a beer-stand dimly lit with a ten watt econ bulb. Then her black dog with his crooked smile. Star jasmine perfumes the late night air. In the brief hours after midnight, the street is almost silent but at four in the morning, a rooster breaks sleep. Soon the women downstairs, will be tapping charcoal from yesterday's brazier, then the odor of chili and limes, burned offering, singeing of pig trotter over charcoal, dark fermented fish sauce, jasmine and cilantro, vine-weed, garlic, warm bread and roasted dog.
I gave you an offering. I would like to give you many more things but that's enough. I told you to sleep, Shhh.
Do not look unless it is accordance with the rites;
Do not listen unless it is accordance with the rites;
Do not speak unless it is accordance with the rites;
Do not move unless it is in accordance with the rites.
Confucius, The Analects X11.1
The nights have been like this, we sleep side by side. Each morning sharing all, a bowl of rice, a cup of tap water sweet with arsenic. Each cup reminds me. Poison tastes like honey.
(Fade to black)