Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006).



He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.



Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His most recent book of poems (in Dutch) is Deze poelen, deze geest (2008). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.



After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Muus and the Tai Chi Masters (story; Part 8 of 8)

(from Strange Tales from a Sinological Studio 漢齋誌異 by Lloyd Haft)


The next morning everything went as planned, although I was constantly wondering how Vera was doing. When the delivery van from the bakery arrived with sandwiches and coffee for lunch, we had gotten as far as ‘Scout Stands Tall in the Stirrups.’ Right afterward, Muus arrived. He said he had already eaten. Already drunk too, I thought, when I smelled his breath.
The moment had arrived. I was going to have to announce the change of plans. I was expecting some discontent, maybe some protest. Instead of Vera with her exotic charm and vitality, now they were going to have to listen to a sort of amateur comedian, who constantly referred to himself as a ‘dinosaur’...
He walked up and stood beside me. Without waiting for me to finish introducing him, he grabbed the microphone and began, while a wave of disappointment buzzed through the audience, his talk: 
‘The kind of tai chi that we’re doing today is called “The Twenty-One Postures.” Depending on how you translate it, it could also be called “The Twenty-One Forms.”  It’s a series of forms, every form with a name, in a certain order. The names, and the order, are not a matter of chance. The names, or if you will the concepts – when you put them in that order, they become a story. It’s not just any old story. It’s the story of every one of us.
‘This afternoon I want to share some thoughts with you about this series of concepts, this story, and I’d like to do that by referring to another series of concepts, another version of the story of each one of us – the Hebrew alphabet.’
I tried to hide my embarrassment. I thought, So that’s how he could be so confident about giving this lecture. He’s just going to re-heat an old dish that he’s served up many times. But...so what. It’s a way to get through this afternoon...
        Meanwhile, I was beginning to worry about my own plans. Three days from now I was supposed to be in China. Originally I had planned to spend one night at Muus’ place and then go back home to prepare for the trip. Two additional nights and this whole day had been added. I wasn’t sure if I would still try to attend the funeral tomorrow. But now I had to leave the room and make a couple of phone calls.
While I strode off toward the pantry, I heard Muus saying: ‘...But we can’t just stay forever on that high ethereal plane all to ourselves. So sooner or later we move away from it, and wherever there is movement, there is opposition. Wherever there’s Yin, there’s going to be Yang also.’
        Standing in the pantry, I made my calls and checked a few things for my trip, made some last-minute appointments – but my heart was not in it. The only thing I could really think about, besides Vera, was tomorrow. The funeral. Rationally speaking, I had hardly known Ed. It had been his explicit wish to limit the guests at his funeral to ‘family and intimate friends.’ Still, I noticed I really wanted to be there. But I had no appropriate clothes with me here, not even a decent clean shirt.
I called Vera. She answered from her car, on the way to the post office with the death announcements. ‘Oh Daaf, I’m so glad it’s you!’ I told her I was considering not attending the funeral. She was appalled. ‘Daaf, you listen to me: you can’t do that to me. You’re the kingpin of this whole thing now. Without you I’d, we’d...’
I didn’t agree that I was the ‘kingpin’, but I promised to be there. We agreed to eat an early Chinese-restaurant meal tonight, just the four of us; after that I would take the train home to pick up clothes for tomorrow.
When I got back into the taproom, you could have heard a pin drop. Muus was spinning out his story and the audience were thrilled.
        ‘...This posture is called “Guard the Knee on a Cross Step”, but watch out: in another way, that step is a step straight ahead. Every step we take, takes us onward, forward. The symbolism at this stage is “A person bowing their head” – somebody who’s just been in that high haughty place we were talking about, and now comes down, bows down, maybe to receive something, something so big and heavy that you have to bow down to lift it up. Sometimes the very thing you need to carry you, to lift you up, is first way down there and it feels like a humiliation to have to reach down for it.
‘This is also the fourth Posture, and the symbolism of the Four is: father-mother-daughter-son. The mating process and the fruits of it. The “Be Fruitful and Multiply”.’
Lord, I thought, and this was supposed to be about tai chi. But no matter; the audience loved it and no one would go home disappointed.
        Their enthusiasm grew and grew as the afternoon proceeded; so much so that we had to rush and jostle to get everybody out by closing time. By then there was a long list of sign-up signatures for the follow-up course next spring.
As we sat at the table with beer and sateh, I asked Vera if she knew who was going to give the follow-up course. She said nothing but pointed, like all Chinese using not just a finger but the whole arm – at me. After a couple of seconds she withdrew her hand, turned it around, and in another classic Chinese gesture pointed with her index finger at her own nose. Next, she looked at Muus: ‘And hopefully, by special invitation, our guest speaker Master Peace!’ Muus laughed, quaffed the remaining two-thirds of his beer, and signaled the waitress for another. Wei followed every detail of his movements.

Once ensconced in the first-class train compartment, I fell asleep in seconds, straight through till we pulled into Zwolle and the loud announcement woke me up: due to a ‘defective switch,’ we would not be able to take the normal direct route through to Utrecht.

If it had been Ed’s wish to limit his funeral to a small select group, he certainly had his wish now. There we were, standing on the lawn, just a handful of us and even that handful divided, incoherent with surviving rifts, resentments, jealousies. I found it a pathetic travesty of last respect paid to the bringer of fellowship. I was glad I had not grudged Ed the two extra train trips and the sleepless night.
The ex-wife turned out to be there, and the son, who insisted on being the last speaker. Right now it was Vera’s turn. She took off her big sunglasses, put on reading glasses with narrow lenses and wire wings, and unfolded a sheet of A4 white paper. She had her beautiful white boots on under an elegant wine-red jacket and skirt.
She began: ‘Ed didn’t like a lot of talking on this kind of occasion. Neither do I, so I’ll keep it short. But he wanted me’ – her voice quavered – ‘to read a few lines from a poem that he wrote a couple of years ago. I think these lines had a very special meaning for Ed, and I’m thankful to be able to share them with you.’
To my disgust, just at that moment, the man at the end of the row to our right, the ‘new partner’ of Ed’s former wife, took out his cellphone and performed a number of ostentatious fidgetings that included evoking and aborting a brief ring. I thought: so much for the fellowship...
        Unruffled, Vera read aloud:

Touch that is the open:
opening to always, ever there.
I need no name, no place to stay
where many hands,
many hearts
are in and through and of me.

Nothing more I need to do:
my body’s in the growing:
green across the mountains to the sea.

All doubt was gone from my mind: Ed was the real author of the ‘instructional poems’ on the DVD we had watched. I recognized both these short stanzas; on the DVD, under the guise of ‘translations,’ they had been assigned to two different Postures.
When she was finished reading, Vera waited in silence for a few seconds. Suddenly I missed Matt. I wondered who would take care of him from now on.
Vera came back and stood in our row right beside me. Ed’s son, who resembled his father in both face and weight, waddled up to front and center to say his say. His half-pleasant grin reminded me of his father’s at the moment that he was sitting on the trike and made his pronouncement about the ‘inhibited Confucian bitch’ – but now I sensed the object of derision was the man on our far right.
In any case, from the moment he opened his mouth, I didn’t consciously hear a word he said, since in that same moment I was inundated with the sudden warmth of Vera’s hand as she clasped my own in it.
Not just the speech escaped me. Afterward, as our miserable cohort straggled off the grounds toward our respective cars, I failed to notice whether the family were aware that Vera and I were now walking hand in hand. The ex-wife hated her in any case, and would continue in that hate. I did notice that Muus, who had insisted on being present, was watching us with an uncomplicated smile.
And he was not walking alone: Wei had immediately imitated Vera’s example by taking his arm in hers. I wondered what he was in her mind right now – an Elder? a Comrade? – a Teacher? – a Man? Don’t worry about it, I thought, just be happy for them. Ed’s no longer living; they are.
In the van on the way to Muus’ place – we had agreed we would all spend the night there – Wei sat in the back seat with Muus and cuddled up against him like a young girl, with her head on his shoulder. Neither said a word. With his arm resting around her, Teacher Peace was contemplating.
Soon, while the aroma of pizzas rose from the oven, he was sitting in ‘the room’ in his favorite southwest corner, looking out at the Hesperides where he felt so much at home. Wei lay rolled up on the couch like a pussycat beside him, her head on his thigh. His hand rested lightly on her head, with his fingers in her short thick hair.
I made as if to pour his jenever for him so he would not need to stand up, but he waved me off. I thought, What is this – him refusing a drink? But he whispered with an I-don’t-understand-this-either smile: ‘I may need to sort of be in good shape tonight.’
These had been long, exhausting days for all of us, but clearly we would have other things to do tonight than just to sleep. With hardly a word, it was obvious who was to sleep where: Muus and Wei in the twin that was Muus’ normal bed; Vera and I in the adjoining room with the two mattresses on the floor.
Earlyish in the evening, we went upstairs two by two. Vera and I had just begun, with the mixed pride and awkwardness that characterizes such moments, loosening each others’ clothes when we were distracted by loud sounds from the other side of the wall. Someone was being beaten – but not hard; at the same time two voices were giggling. And talking, though we could not understand the words.
‘Another spanking?’ I asked.
‘Not necessarily...it could also be paida gong. That’s a kind of Chinese massage where you hit various parts of the body with your hands. It’s very good for stimulating the circulation. You can do it by yourself, too. But by yourself’ – and her pouted lips moved slowly but surely toward my mouth – ‘it’s just not the same!’
It was as if I somehow heard Ed speaking through her, but by now we had found ourselves on the mattresses and there was no further sound, no thought, no thing there that was not ourselves.

How many sexes are there in reality? Surely more than two. Would twice two be closer?
        That night I felt – I was – at least four. I was Muus as he rose from the earth, hovered above it like the late sun in still-yearning branches, burning till at last he caught, snagged where the limbs join the trunk, brought to a halt and a home.
        But in that snag I felt Ed too, Ed with his need to be held, bound, broken of will that finally warmth be known.
        But in Ed was something of Wei: the Teacher that couldn’t keep up, who had to put aside her Mastership to restore the tie between the wary top half of her face and the wordless footsoles that would have to carry it.
        And in and through them all: Vera. Vera who I became, who I now was in all her postures: now up now down, now man now woman, growing with whatever of herself she gave away, till suddenly for the first time in my life, in a thrill of amazement I knew: now I, too, am Woman – so all-beholden, so all-beknown of Vera as she took me, knew me in the now unstoppable opening of her eyes that spread through all the body till all body was our own, so open, so wide as to conceive me not as I had been but as I came.

It must have happened then, because very early the next morning I was in the train going back to Leiden, to my luggage, to China. And now I’ve been in Peking for six weeks, and last night Vera told me over the phone that she’s pregnant.

I can’t wait to get back – not to my house; my house is for sale. Back to what the four of us now call ‘Aarts House.’ That’s where we’re going to live, the four of us. I mean the five of us. Vera said every day now Muus and Wei are painting, cleaning up, fixing up. And of course there’s a doghouse for Matt.
We don’t know yet how Wei can get a residence visa. The Foundation could invite her and employ her as teacher and consultant. A Labor Permit might be easier and faster than Residence With Spouse.
At first I was worried about the legal situation between Muus and De Novo Publishers, since Muus suddenly abandoned an agreed-on project that they had already sunk money into. But he says now De Novo is happy with his proposal of an alternative: he’s going to write an autobiography, full of critical reflections on his own past publications. He already knows the title: Better Nuts than Never.
What else we already know is the name of our baby. If it’s a boy Muus Eduard; if it’s a girl Davida Edine. Either way, Ed’s name will live on in this world.
        Where his name will not be, is directly under the framed photo of Ed that Muus and Wei have already hung on the wall between two of the bookcases. Under that photo, they’ve mounted a little shelf where Wei regularly sets out fresh flowers. Muus is allergic to incense, but he agrees we should go on honoring ‘the one who put us all together.’ On the photo itself, Wei has written in Chinese calligraphy ‘Surviving Portrait of the Great Teacher Weiran.’
Based on the characters she chose to write the name ‘Weiran,’ it could be interpreted in various ways. But there is no doubt in my mind: it means The Great Teacher Just-The-Way-It-Is.