Caroline Wong is a West Coast writer whose poems and stories, which appear on this site from time to time, follow the interior journeys of a transplanted woman who is paradoxically a dreamer, a story teller, a conjuror, a jester, a realist. Her journeys often begin with a physical landscape: a summit, an old cannery, a hospital room, a flower, a feast. From these real, remembered and/or imagined objects she weaves in and out of her early childhood in the village, her growing up in her adopted land, adulthood, and all the confusing, sweet and bitter stages in between.
Fueled by our perpetual need to find meaning and purpose in our lives, Primal Sketches is a book that considers how our actions profoundly affect the lives of fellow humans as well as the natural world around us, and how our desire to connect, care, and empathize, are constantly interrupted by feelings of insecurity and growing anxiety of our uncertain future in a world that is continually bombarded by global conflicts and environmental crises. However, our determination to carry on provides glimpses of hope amid brutal and unthinkable actions and these bright, tender moments reveal our capacity to learn, understand, and love—the essence of our humanity.
Watch Book Trailer
Watch Book Launch Event
The scheduled coming and going minutes
Sweep clean the station’s white-tiled platform.
I am barely settled before the whistle shrills,
Engine groaning, wheels creaking to gathering speed.
We leave behind Zhengzhou’s neon forest,
Chug past dim-lit dormitories and factory stockades,
Ahead thread twin tracks on bed of concrete ties
To places with never-heard-of names.
I clear a space among the clutter of cups and snacks,
Push back curtain, grip pen in hand.
The pages waits for now, a pristine field
Seeding its first acre of green.
The lights across Huang He dip like strung pearls,
Too bright to see the waters weaving between
The archways and silted channels.
I write: through Gongyi, an hour from Kaifeng.
The moon and her shadow follow
The squares of yellow thrown from the train’s windows.
A patchwork of millet and wheat stretch away.
A mist uncoils long tendrils.
Each place I pass through is more than a name I mark down.
Handan, Baoding, Xushui of the Hebei region.
At quarter to three I am back in the land of my birth, Dingxing,
Its name a recollection, a reservoir of rooted reasons.
The Year of the Water Dragon
Drums and firecrackers marched us down Chinatown.
New Year’s dragon undulated in blue-gold waves.
Flag of old China, blue sky, white sun, red earth
in our hands. Plum blossom buttons
the Republic’s flower.
Sun Yet-sen’s Principles swelled our heads.
Our teachers looked on, out-casted
scholars who drilled us in nationalism
filled us with hatred for Red China.
A chilly breeze tugged. I recalled
another parade through a county town.
We wore our green tunics, red arm bands.
Fisted slogans the cadres taught us.
Danced the Five Stars, Spring Sowing
our breaths white shield against mid-winter’s cold.
Portrait of Passing
Burning, my mother is burning.
She tears at her gown until the ties come loose.
Her bones show
a raw woman.
The fan turned high, she shivers as I bathe her.
Screams, my mother’s screams.
Not the kind she used to make
which soothed us.
These pierce my heart like flints.
Send slivers of dread
into my veins.
She shakes her fist at the demons waiting.
She rants at me
for not believing.
Lump, the lump in my mother’s throat
the soft tissue rises like dough.
It muffles her words.
“Don’t let me starve.”
Lightning. Lightning forks and flashes.
Gusts of wind billow the curtains
turning mother’s room
into a galleon set for
the journey across unseen ocean.
Rain, it rains at mother’s funeral.
Rivulets run down the grave’s lip.
Daisies and lilies droop.
We say our last goodbyes with handfuls of rose and dirt
We carry her portrait home
We propitiate her with meat and rice—
a ritual recalled from memory
a ceremony of peace.
Days of Wine and Prayer
His life common the monk prays past midnight.
On bitter wings a lone goose takes to the sky.
For months he lives in a country of red maples.
With a quavering heart the lake holds the sky.
Her fragrant breath he will savor in later years.
In his dreams, the same emptiness etches the sky.
Not used to wine he delights us with boisterous lines.
Heady with longing he sings to the wintry sky.
His faith lies in the decaying dust, in the wilting stars.
Some days he walks naked as snow blocks the sky.
Some days he rouses himself to galactic gaiety.
Unknown to him, magenta petals flock to the sky.
To the bruised sunset he asks the same nine questions.
As always, there is one answer in the throat of the sky.
He packs up his crumpled thoughts in a steamship trunk.
Echoes of temple bells fill the morning sky.
Together the Lights of Home Expire
after Bei Dao
Before the ocean changed
I knew my way home.
I knit a scarf of pebbles—
each one a wing, a cardinal wind,
a breath of the moon as it glided,
oblivious of the owl’s journey,
a voice in the rain,
a lotus thread wheeling me in
seven thousand days or more
before I was caught,
a golden carp on destiny’s hook—
What gestures passed between us?
What words exchanged?
The rain drummed on the roof
gliding down the window pane,
sealing us in.
The crumbling of old vows,
the waves pushing
toward disappearing shores.
When we surfaced, we breathed through gills.
On Way To Jiang Ling
The thoughts I wish to take flight
get caught in the pavestone cracks.
The words I wish to send—
the ink won’t flow,
leaving a web of ghost lines
hovering over the page like bled veins.
The long road stretches into decades.
How many times—
the hands of dreams sweep around twice?
I would be content now—
a mossy trail, a hermit’s hut,
the song he sings:
Morning leaving Bai Di among the clouds.
Jiang Ling a thousand li east.
The ceaseless howls of gibbons from red cliffs—
Our sampan lightly sails through ten thousand peaks.¹