The Brambles of Life

Li Min Mo explores the archeological power of writing @ Talking Writing.

Words have had great power over my life. Like memories, they formed part of my history.

At age three, I heard over and over again from my older sisters and my Ma that my dad had been executed.

Many decades later, I learned that my dad was one among countless political prisoners taken in 1949 by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong. Not one of those prisoners was given a proper burial, nor were their loved ones allowed to mourn. Execution was a big word; not being allowed to mourn would haunt me.

I didn’t know a survivor had the responsibility to uncover the lies, the unmarked graves, the injustice that still exists among us.

Only after struggling with the vicissitudes of life for decades did I come to writing. I discovered grief has color and shape and texture. The choking horrors and the complexity of human upheavals could all become tangible by the act of writing. A writer could bring light to testimonies.

Before I found words, I was filled with a passion for shapes and their lines. My eyes were my pencil or brush.

I looked outside on a blustery winter morning and saw my mother making a fire, her back the perfect image of a pear shape. Her gold silk robe was worn, the intricately embroidered red flowers and green leaves split open, bits of silk padding sticking out.

Every morning after that, I looked out the window and sketched with my mind’s eye what was out there. My mother’s back was so comforting and powerful. With her right hand holding a palm fan, she was the fire maker and symbol of peace.

Another day, I saw a neighbor holding a chicken, its wings clipped back. She was preparing to slaughter the bird as a sacrifice for her deceased husband. A short, thin woman, she wore a thick dark-blue jacket; her back looked like a poorly wrapped package. The chicken’s dangling neck, on the verge of being slashed, was a sad curvature.

A soldier approached, his gun slung over his shoulder. Its metallic harshness was very much like the stiff, upright posture of the small man, his mouth twisted by threatening words: “No mourning, no sacrifice!!! That’s the order!!! No mourning!!


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