Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

  • Mood:

Poem: "Before They Are Easy"

This poem came out of the January 2, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] rix_scaedu. It also fills the "xenophobic stupidity" square in my 1-1-18 card for the Apocalypse Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Before They Are Easy"

In Quanzhou there lives
a man who makes marionettes.

Yang Chonglin carves camphor and willow
into expressive faces and lithe bodies,
strings thread to make them move.

It takes him over two weeks
to carve a single head,
but it's worth it.

He is an outlier, but
there is nobody better.

What the audience
does not know is that
each marionette is modeled
after someone, and not one
is exactly what it seems.

Here is the boy with the cleft lip
who looks like a fool but is wise;
here is the old man who looks wise
and yet forever acts like a fool.

Here is the rich merchant who
refuses to pay the taxes that he owes,
and the poor girl who puts her last crumb
into the begging-bowl of a hungry monk.

What the audience does not know
is why they believe these things
about the characters they see.

They do not notice. Instead,
they ask why it takes so long
to make a marionette and how
he can do it so gracefully while
his apprentices struggle to keep up.

Master Yang just chuckles and says,
"All things are difficult before they are easy."

The tourists move from the workshop
to the theater and shuffle into their seats.

Zhou Weisheng takes the stage
along with his troupe of apprentices.

In their hands, the marionettes
come to life. Deft fingers manipulate
the thirty-six strings to make them
bow and dance and pour tea.

There is only ever one of
Master Yang's oddities in
any given show -- the others
are made by different carvers --
but his is the one people remember.

His power is soaked right into the wood,
brightened with paint and sealed with varnish,
and through his gift, seeing is believing.

When Master Zhou takes up the strings
and follows the script across the stage,
most of the characters are classics
but there's always one that stands out.

People laugh, because the lines are funny
and the misfit character seems like a joke,
just a little bit sideways of propriety.

After the show, the tourists ask
how long it takes to train a puppeteer
and why only Master Zhou can make
the monkeys turn somersaults.

Master Zhou just smiles and says,
"All things are difficult before they are easy."

China is a mess, and everybody knows it,
but nobody dares to say anything.

It's authoritarian and oppressive,
but it's traditional, so people
just look the other way.

The government doesn't like
superpowers very much, and
it likes activists even less.

But the alpaca marionette in
Master Zhou's hands is made of
felt and sings communist songs
as it cavorts across the stage
on its ridiculous yarn legs.

The government men laugh
at the traditional plays with
their silly contemporary twists,
and then they go away.

Everybody looks,
but nobody sees what
is hiding in plain sight.

After all, they're looking
for superpowers, not magic.

In China, changing people's minds
is hard and hazardous work, and it takes
a long time to accomplish anything much.

All things are difficult before they are easy.

* * *


Yang Chonglin -- He has golden skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and short brown hair. He is insightful and good with his family. Master Yang makes Chinese marionettes, and uses them to teach people.
Origin: According to Chinese lore, a qilin appeared to the pregnant mother of Confucius in the 6th century B.C.E. and coughed up a jade tablet enscribed with a prophecy about the future greatness of her unborn child. Later on, a few descendants have manifested one or more abilities associated with the qilin.
Uniform: Practical men's clothes, usually in deep colors that don't show stains.
Qualities: Master (+6) Chinese Marionette Carver, Expert (+4) Dexterity, Expert (+4) Family Man, Good (+2) Activist, Good (+2) Righteousness (yì 义), Good (+2) Existential Intelligence
Poor (-2) Anxiety
Powers: Good (+2) Belief Magic
Vulnerability: China disapproves of superpowers, so if anyone finds out, Master Yang would be in considerable danger.
Motivation: To show people the truth.

Benevolence (rén 仁), righteousness ( 义), propriety ( 礼), wisdom (zhì 智) and fidelity (xìn 信) are the Five Constant Virtues (wǔ cháng 五常) which are the most important ones in traditional virtues of China. Although they all came from Confucianism (rú jiā sī xiǎng 儒家思想), they are widely acknowledged all over China. To be a moral person, the ancient Chinese cultivated and monitored themselves according to the Five Constant Virtues and carried them down to the modern life.
Righteousness in contrast to benevolence involves thinking and acting from one’s own viewpoint. It demands rational action, self-restraint to resist temptation and the fortitude to do one’s duty. Above all righteousness is about preserving one’s integrity.
-- The Five Constant Virtues of China

Zhou Weisheng -- He has golden skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and short black hair receding at the front. He is a good father. Master Zhou is a Chinese puppeteer whose wisdom makes him a good teacher. He loves animals and has studied their motion intensely to render it onstage.
Qualities: Master (+6) Chinese Puppeteer, Expert (+4) Stamina, Expert (+2) Wisdom (zhì 智), Good (+2) Animal Lover, Good (+2) Father, Good (+2) Dexterity
Poor (-2) Politics

See the Quanzhou marionette with cleft lip.

Playing with a Trope
Subverted: A trope is set up to occur, but then the writer pulls a fast one on the audience, and the trope does not occur after all.
• The butler is the prime suspect at the beginning, and is later found innocent. Or, the butler did do it, but it turns out it was an Accidental Murder.
• A huge glowing bomb is assumed to be a superweapon, and is then revealed to not have any effective blast due to its inefficiency.

This is the alpaca. The Chinese "grass mud horse" is sometimes represented as an alpaca or a llama.

* * *

wàn shì kāi tóu nán
All things are difficult before they are easy.
-- Chinese Sayings

Locally, China is the source of numerous and flagrant violations of human rights. In Terramagne, China is the ninth-worst country for soups, with abridged rights and confinement. In looking for the countries most likely to abuse people with superpowers, I examined those with a history of mistreating others who are different, such as religious minorities or alternative sexualities.
Tags: activism, crafts, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, history, magic, poem, poetry, politics, reading, weblit, writing

  • Bingo

    This month I made bingo on both my 5x5 cards for the Valentines Bingo Fest, so that's 10 fills, plus 11 extra, for a total of 21 fills. \o/ I made…

  • Rose and Bay Awards

    The Rose and Bay Awards are almost done for the year. The voting period runs February 1-28. If you have not yet voted for your favorite projects,…

  • Poem: "This Very Moment"

    This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It fills the "family portraits" square in my 12-1-20 card for the Winter Fest…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.