“Chinese Spies” by Glenn Shaheen

Glenn Shaheen


It’s not that I don’t like people. I want to imagine
a world in which I can give endlessly to others—
my time, my money, whatever it takes. Our voices
would be raised together in celebration, with real
musical tones. In songwriting, the best new melody
is the one that sounds familiar. Please, I just want
to like everybody. Or maybe I just want everybody
to like me. A month ago, I was driving on the coiled
back roads of East Texas, trees relentlessly folding
into more trees, and I had to stop, I had to relieve
myself. There was a shack, sticking out of the woods
not too far from the road, and nothing else for miles.
Two Asian men walked out. There was a stutter
in their step when they saw me and I thought spies.
Sent here to gather everything there is to know
about our emptiness. Men in a shack off the side
of State Road Seventeen-Something-Something.
Or in Alaska, perched near a cliff draped in blue ice.
Or my neighbor who sometimes picks up packages
from me that UPS leaves, and always tells me he’s
my neighbor, from next door. I want to trust, to give.
I want to be sent away to study all the riveting facets
of solitude, of an American too scared to never
answer the phone when it rings at an inconvenient
time. To trust the landscape. A bleak future to embrace.
I know the real idea of generosity is to give especially
when you can’t, but that doesn’t change anything to me.
The shack. The spies. A neighbor who never knocks.
A familiar harmony without a melody. A stray wind
shuffling down the street. Is this what happens as we
age, our vision of heaven being constantly redefined?
I never thought I’d find the idea of peace so terrifying.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010

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