Archive > Vol. X no. Z
Red Earth Sequence
1. The Mouth of the Yangtze All that flying time at body heat — And now at last descent... The spirit-worlds Of Sichuan, Tibet, have drained away To shipping lanes and Japanese defeat, Drowned Studebakers, yesterday’s bar-girls, Gold teeth gone, who walked the Shanghai streets Alive in Nineteen Forty Five, to the flash Five hundred miles away — Hiroshima Or the end of the world… If time, eternity Ever meet, tomorrow or today, My criminal essence and my need to pray Will break apart on impact, in the South China Sea, Or make it through, on a wing and a prayer To a deathless landing. No-one will meet me there. 2. The Life on Zhentong Street Smell it, the osmanthus. Heavy, sweet, The essence of China, somebody once said. For days I hang out here, on Zhentong Street, Making a world, recovering, lightheaded After time-zones. Children, break my heart For childlessness. Street-women, sprawl at ease On your public sofa. Life has beaten art, The innocence and the sleaze. The vulcanizer’s spark, the cobbler’s awl Monopolize the empire, great in small. Laughter claps a hand to its own mouth In pure embarrassment at the power of mood. Past the point of beauty, short of death, Never does plain water taste so good. 3. Autumn in Chengdu At the slightest rain, a flowering of umbrellas Fourteen storeys down. The human sea, The “ocean of suffering,” or so they tell me — Deaths, rebirths… How many days now, all alone At the heart of reality, in the white noise Of a jammed radio, the fuzz on the internet, Do I cut myself off, the better to atone For ever living? It is not time yet For the leaves that never fall, on the trees of Chengdu — But the cripples and the hydrocephalic boys At the Buddhist gates, the lama’s cry On the loudspeaker, powerfully coming through The smog of appetite, are reaching me Even now, and teaching me to die. 4. At the White Night Café A poet of the Meo tribe, smoking weed, Ignores me, ostentatiously. Ms Zhai With a hand-held camera, looks herself in the eye. “It is time, now, for our honored guest to read” Professor Chan sits down. I see John Wong Stealing, surreptitiously, anything he is able, From the uncleared plates on the revolving table. Tan translates. A travesty, all wrong — But who will care? The smoke and mirrors, drinks, The zither-pluckings ancient as Du Fu, The spot-lit stage, projectionist on cue, Inspired misunderstandings, age to age, Are crowding in on me, as the stone page Turns, I clear my throat, and darkness blinks. 5. Red Earth Huge as China, tiny as a door To a higher incarnation…No-one there To meet me, no-one to say goodbye. Such is the infinite courteousness, I could die On the wrong side of language. Where I go There is only silence. Everywhere, crowded floors Of airports, Himalayan air In the distance, or the nearness of gingko trees — Mongolian space, the nomad’s empty stare In total externality. Two currencies, Origin, destination, burn a hole In my pocket, whatever each is worth. Meanwhile, the body in transit. And the soul Eternally foreign, vaster than red earth.