Out of the Depths
by Stephanie Han

Here I learn to sing for love: St. James Church, Florence, Italy, 1982.
Out of the Depths. Aus der Tiefe.
Bach knew that voices peel notes, scatter petals before gods.
In foreign lands, terrain is the body.
Journeys: steps among walls from autumnal kilns,
red wine that stings,
cobblestones that beat boot leather,
dust of clay and time.
Here, an old world of art and gods.
Here, an alabaster youth towers,
crowds gather, transfixed:
The Madonna’s electric blues, the child’s peach fists,
halos, halos everywhere.
This air shouts love and belief.
Passion: the faint bite of a cigarette nipping dusk,
March cold whipping the back of my knees,
a quiver and kiss, a penance for longing.
The thrill and release, crisp smell of hope,
embrace of supple flesh,
passion so wide, skin barely holds it.
Memory is now.
What is Love, but an ancient bridge over an ageless water,
flocks of birds that hurry to the heavens,
a sky that echoes your eyes?
In youth one knows its purpose: the creation of memories,
urgent, desperate, alive.

* * *

Such things follow me to China.
Here, continents and decades away,
I push back memory’s cloying scent and salty sweet
to stay alive. All is half-done.
What to do now, but to sift and store.
My love from the past remains
in a box I will always carry:
This is what it means to have innocence.
And what of love now?
A familiar traveler, a wanderer,
a man of rage and longing,
a rough rock of intelligence.
Poetry is difference, the unknown.
We unfold like origami; the lines remain.
Then was the creation of the map I came to follow.

* * *

The compass rose blooms and points,
directs us to deserts and possibility.
Now I know the gravity of love,
how it breaks and mends,
its flowers and soil,
the cracking of its perfect wood,
the thirst of its jagged roots,
the light it demands and gives or
Death: this ocean surely comes.
I have moved countries again. Again.
Time, time, from one cradle to another.
Love—bound in this place and a man without a country—
began in the hiss of summer’s heat,
through the eye of an Empire’s possession.
This East swallows, and I am one of its minions,
a small snack, a witness, nothing more.
I dreamt of everything then, as I do now.
This, this boat, ferries me over the water
anchors my belief, delivers me on hands and knees
to dreams that pour from my flesh,
to love that awakens again. Again.

IMAGE: Concert program, St. James Church, Florence, Italy (March 21, 1982).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is about being 17, touring Italy with a school choir, and falling in love with a young American backpacker. Years later, he emailed me the choir program. Later, I fell in love again while traveling through Hong Kong, and thus began my peripatetic existence between cities, countries, and places.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie Han’s debut short story collection Swimming in Hong Kong was the finalist for the AWP Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction as well as the Spokane Prize. She is City University of Hong Kong’s first English literature PhD, and her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and literary criticism have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. She divides her time between Mui Wo, Lantau, Hong Kong, and Honolulu, Hawaii, home of her family since 1904.