Category Archives: Alison Stine

Air and Water

The weather finally turned this weekend; turned back into the brick-baking hot I want and need. Two weeks in the seventies–sixties overnight–was putting dark, sorrowful circles under my eyes. I’m not truly happy, in the summer, unless I’m looking at even odds on self-combustion; unless I’m experiencing heat-related heart palpitations sixty seconds after exiting a building. It’s the summer, and I want to be warm. I’ll be encased in permafrost soon enough. For now: someone could tell me that a solar flare was inbound, and I would rush out-of-doors to bask in its rays.

SOMEONE: But that’s up to 1032 ergs of energy!
ME: Weiner!


My parents came into town this weekend for a multitude of reasons, and one of them was to go to the Air and Water Show, and to listen to my brother announcing the the Navy Leap Frog team’s parachute jump, for that is what he does. Despite living in Chicago for almost five years, I had never attended the Air and Water Show. [“Do I look like I go to Air and Water Shows?” I would have asked you, if you had happened to ask me about it. “Frankly, yes,” you might have replied, and you might have been right at that.] On Saturday, my parents, my little sister, and I plowed through the crowds near North Avenue Beach to get to Matthew, or at least within spitting distance. As we did so, planes that looked like these, doing smoky things like this:

–Made loud loop-de-loops over our heads. “Look!” we said. “Look! Look! Oh look!”

“I like things that are loud!” I added.

When we finally made it onto the beach, we plowed some more, but the going was rough, through sundry small boys, sand, and American flag t-shirts. Suddenly, one of my parents touched my arm, and pointed at one of the mounted loudspeakers: Matthew’s voice was issuing from it! With vigor! What a good announcer! I was riveted, and so were the heavily tattooed young men next to me, one of whom said, of the Naval jumpers: “Man, that’s the s***.” [This is a family blog, people.] The Leap Frogs fell through the sky right smartly, and the crowd went wild as Matthew urged them to give the sailors a hand. Then–this is all real–Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A” started playing. I was in heaven, gentle readers; I cannot lie.

Afterwards, another member of the Armed Forces took a family portrait:

Then my father took a picture of my sister and I being real jerks:


That night, my parents experienced their second reason for coming to town, which was the viewing of a ten-minute play I wrote for a thea-tah festival. I was turrible excited and nervous for them to see it. “Geez, I hope you like it”, I kept saying, along with “I hope you laugh and stuff”, and “Can we get pie after?” [I think I only said that once.] I had already seen it when it opened, on Thursday night, surrounded by other loved ones; and if you want to talk about being encased in permafrost, see also: me, Thursday night, surrounded by loved ones, nervous as Robert Scott must have been when he learned that Roald Amundsen had whupped him in the race to the South Pole! But everything ended up being beautiful and good, and I was able to breathe again for the first time in several days without the aid of a brown paper bag.

Anyways, all of that prepared me for Saturday. It’s your parents and sister, for the love of Mary, Mother of God, I reasoned. They will still love you. They are your blood kin. They did like it–they laughed and laughed and all, and were very proud–and at intermission, my mother leaned down the aisle and said to me, lovingly:

“You’re weird.”


The faithful return to circles. Out walking,
we come across the church at the hour
they assemble into cold. And it is cold,
still, April, my hand in yours. The congregation
links without touching on the grass,
their hands occupied with light. I am
trying to explain how I trust you. Tonight,
believers hold out their arms for fantails:
white-edged, splintered, flat. There is singing
now as we reach the curb. The woman
leading them understands they will keep
what she offers, the way the bees returned
to the farm from summer, each year the cloud
of them rising from the frost-clipped fields,
that bone rattle, that haze. So when they
do not return, you will know they are dead,
disease sweeping the husks like wind lifting
the hair of a girl. Next spring the palms,
brown and curled, will be burnt and returned
to the body, the black on each forehead,
a testament to touch, against forgetting.
Will we be here also a year, our arms
like cuttings. Then, a wreath.

Alison Stine


Filed under Alison Stine, Brothers and Sisters, My Parents, Poetry

The China.

This week’s blog–like it, love it, leave it or not–is going to be about China/the Olympics/China/the Olympics. My friends know that I am nervous about this blog, but I need to write it.

China’s human rights situation–and my inside-hurt regarding China’s human rights situation, and how it makes me want to punch through drywall–has simmered away in my mind, on some level, since always. Sometimes it surfaces, as it did two years ago, when I read about two Canadian men, David Kilgour [a former Canadian Secretary of State] and David Matas [a human rights lawyer], and their report, “Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China“, about one of the more grisly methods the PRC allegedly utilizes to persecute Falun Gong, a spiritual practice the government perceives as a threat to its power.

And sometimes, like now, it surfaces like a plinian volcanic eruption, and floods the banks of my brain with lava. Angry, angry lava, and also ash. Attention-afresh is being paid to China’s record, because they are hosting the Olympics, and have placed themselves squarely in The Crosshairs of World Observation. Journalists–at least Western ones, who are allowed to do so without fear of imprisonment–have been meticulous and unstinting in their criticism, and have reminded us all of many things for which we needed reminders . Seven times a day, of late, do I send someone an article detailing the latest violation of the most basic human rights, ones that should be accorded to anyone currently living on the planet Earth. Seven times a day do I rise up out of my work chair, and rush to my friend Laura’s cubicle, shrieking like a tea kettle, pushing pens and papers off of her desk, and high-kicking.

There have been bushels of issues I’ve kept off this blog in the past months, not wanting to harangue you, gentle readers–Zimbabwe’s electoral travesties; Myanmar’s junta, so evil that their evil is almost quantifiable, could be put on the periodic table of elements, “My”, or something–you name it, I’ve harangued in private, harangue harangue, until I’ve been able to shatter crystal stemware just by thinking about it! Today, I will harangue in public. There are just a few points I’d like to touch on. Next week: regularly scheduled whimsy.

Today: I am not going to be nice about this.


Let’s start off here. Apparently, Beijing has been training its policeman to speak some English, for the benefit of their foreign visitors; in order to achieve that end, they’ve created a little study guide called “Olympic Security English”. The piece I read on this matter goes on to say:

“The Christian Science Monitor obtained a copy [of Olympic Security English]. A practice dialogue headed “How To Stop Illegal News Coverage” goes like this:

P(oliceman): Excuse me, sir. Stop, please.

F(oreign journalist): Why?

P: Are you gathering news here?

F: Yes.

P: About what?

F: About Falun Gong. 

P: Show me your press card and your reporter’s permit.

F: Here you are.

P: What news are you permitted to cover?

F: The Olympic Games.

P: Falun Gong has nothing to do with the games…You should only cover the Games.

F: But I’m interested in Falun Gong.

P: It’s beyond the limit of your coverage and illegal. As a foreign reporter in China you should obey China law and do nothing against your status.

F: Oh, I see. May I go now?

P: No. Come with us.

F: What for?

P: To clear up this matter.


This is real. This is really, really real.

“May I go now?”

“No, come with us.”

Do I need to enumerate the ways in which this chilling exchange should never, never, never occur in a world of free peoples?

I thought not.


Then, of course, we have the barring of “foreign activists”. Team Darfur is a group of Olympic athletes committed to drawing attention to the situation in Sudan [a situation for which China has drawn major fire, as supporters of/investors in that government]. The co-founder and president, Joey Cheek [a former Olympic gold medalist] was informed mere hours before he was scheduled to leave for Beijing that his visa had been revoked. Another member of Team Darfur, former Olympiad Kendra Zanotto, had her application for a visa completely denied earlier in the summer. And more [from ABC]:

“Though 72 members of the group [Team Darfur] are expected to compete in this year’s Games, Martha Bixby, director of the group, said that four athletes competing in Beijing who are part of Team Darfur were pressured by the Chinese Embassies in their respective countries to withdraw from Team Darfur. They were told they would otherwise be closely watched and dubbed as “troublemakers” in Beijing, she said.”

A Danish artist named Jens Galschiot, who created a sculpture called “Pillar of Shame” [in memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre, on display in Hong Kong] flew to Hong Kong in April in order to re-paint the piece. He was denied entry, because authorities said “his presence was not ‘conductive of the public good'”.

“Not conductive of the public good.”  Simply put, no one–no no no one–who might possibly speak against China’s policies is to be allowed within a country mile of its borders. This just in: FORBIDDING THE ENTRY OF FOREIGN ACTIVISTS INTO YOUR COUNTRY IS ITS OWN L’IL BLACK EYE. It is bafflingly wrong, and there’s little else to say about it, other than to point out that it’s happening to begin with. There it is. It’s wrong. Also wrong: blocking the free and unfettered use of the Internet from visiting journalists, especially after you promised free and unfettered usage to begin with. Let alone your citizens, who–during the normal course of events–are not allowed access to, for instance, websites having anything to do with Tibet or Tiananmen Square, if those websites run contrary to Chinese policy. Or Amnesty International’s website, or the news site of the United Nations, or Reporters without Borders. Or even the website you’re on right now, gentle readers–Wordpress! YouTube was blocked until June of this year.

This is what you see when you perform a Google image search of “Tiananmen Square” from your computer [page 1 of 92,700 results]:

It’s blurry, but please note: many many people-killing tanks.

This is the same image search on Google China:

That’s page one.

Of one.


I’ve been watching the Olympics. [I went back and forth for a while about watching it at all, but as my mother said, you can’t penalize the athletes]. I love the Olympics, and I love watching them, and I love watching the swimming and things. But I can’t forget all of these other things, as I watch. We’re supposed to pretend that they’re not happening, or–if you’re a government–keep relatively silent in the name of diplomacy, or rather, in the name of free trade. And I’m all for free trade. I heart free trade. I’m all for diplomacy, and for the Chinese people.

I am also for dissidents like Hu Jia, currently serving a prison sentence in China for “incitement to subvert state power and the socialist system” after publishing an open letter which was critical of the Chinese government. [Here’s the letter. Read it.] And hey, guess what? His wife and 10 month-old-daughter–who live in Beijing–disappeared the day before the Olympics started; no one can find them, and it’s believed that they were taken into police custody to curtail their ability to communicate with foreign journalists! So!

I am not for the sickening policies of the Party, which keep everyone in check; which disallow access to all sources of information, which disallow freedom of speech and press. These are the basics. Citizens of other countries are denied these rights as well, I know. But today I write about China, because we have given them the Olympics. People should be able to say what they want to say, when they want to say it, and however they want to say it. They are forever and ever allowed. 

That’s all I’m sayin’.

And now I am done haranguing.

Cheer up. Next week, I’ll probably write about this tree I discovered called the “Sawtooth Gobbler Oak”.

No River

God rewards. On the late work day,
the highway whip-flickers. Heat and
cold mixing make a wall. The valley
is bay and trees, halved by fog, low-
hung, swept water patiently waiting,
white. Forget what I said. Forget I
said it. There was no man before
no touch no pain no child no trace no
tights no dirt no flying no goal no table
no trial no inferno no choice no lobby
no process no massacre no moon
maybe there was another moon but no
machine no surprise no marigold no
candidate no classified no trilogy no
Santa Claus no still life no such thing
no notebook no refund no rainbow
no lean-to no alphabet no weather
no radio no protection no river no you
no end to you no everything begins
with you. Believe the cloud.  The cloud
and the steam, the robber bees and
wasps, the honey, that long gold line
I would drink from your thigh
somewhere we could row and row to.

Alison Stine

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Filed under Alison Stine, Poetry, Stirring World Events