THE SHOESHINE BEGGAR OF CHONGQING
He wet my left shoe,
I didn’t agree but let him continue.
He rubbed it with a cloth,
brushed it once.
Then he pushed the left away
and pointed to the right.
I moved my right shoe
onto the box.
He wet and rubbed, clothed,
and brushed it.
Then held out his hand.
I gave him 5 Yuan.
He shook his head.
I shrugged my shoulders.
He pleaded with his eyes.
Again shook his grizzled head.
Finally, I gave him another Yuan.
But he rubbed his belly.
I patted his right shoulder
and shook my head.
He went on to another
who refused his footwork.
Now, I think of his thin, gray
stubbled face, eyes full of mirth.
But, most of all, his rubbing his belly—
regretting I didn’t give him at least a dollar.
SAILING THE YANGTZE
to the song of the bells,
struck by thick long sticks,
each larger than a man,
and the echoes of the stones,
the sonorous whistling
of the mouth blowing
the bamboo lusheng,
and the plucking of the strings
on ancient zithers . . .
the young girls
in red silk
trimmed with gold,
hats of Chinese calligraphs . . .
at the works
of a distant past,
long before Moses
in the desert,
even the pharaohs
dreamed of structures
to contain their
signals to the gods
in the distance
of ten-thousand li . . .
I feel the pull
of the river’s current,
gliding along the paths
of my yearning . . .
Buried in the belly
of the cruise ship,
I prepare to rise,
to lift up mine eyes
unto the mountaintops,
there in the mists,
there beyond the Three Gorges . . .
the rush of water
into the subterranean
meanderings of the
mind of myth and magic . . .
and pure exhilaration.
BATHING IN DEW
“. . . those who bathed in the dew
were believed to become immortals.”
—Robert Payne, The White Pony
They say that those who bathe
in the morning dew become immortals.
Thus, I leave my plate outside
waiting for the rise out of the grateful earth.
Each dawn, the dew returns the rain to the sky
so that the clouds can form again and fly to all
dry spots of earth, and spill their load.
Thirsty, the earth drinks in the offering of sky
and new shoots spring out of the saturated dark.
Then, each time the last star appears beside
the golden moon, and the shafts of sunlight
begin to strike the earth, the dew comes up and up,
flying like a string of kites, up and up into the sky.
Catch the morning rise, bathe in it, drink it—
become immortal as a kite slipped from its tether
becomes part of the clouds which come from the earth
and inevitably returns again and again to its mother, the sky.
KITE-FLYING ON THE YANGTZE
Two long-tailed fish,
green & orange-feathered birds,
in tandem, each kissing
the tail of the other,
long-stringed kites in the wind . . .
lines strung above the top deck
of the cruise ship sailing the Yangtze . . .
a wide-winged eagle & long-faced snake,
stretch long, long into the sky . . .
a pig-tailed Chinese girl pulls at the cords
to control the currents of the winds . . .
fingers seeking, finding the source,
kitetails tattering the gusts . . .
MESSAGE IN A SNUFF BOTTLE
Inside the crystal snuff bottle,
the thin L-bent brush paints
calligraphs & figures of ancient China—
eighteen buddhas in meditation,
emperors at various rituals,
children playing games,
women in various dress,
poems of Li Po & Tu Fu . . .
The girl, Mei Li, who paints them
(whose name means “beautiful”),
comes from a family
(brother, father, mother)
who practice this rare art
(fewer than 100 among
the more than a billion
still have the mastery).
Now twenty-two, Mei Li
has been painting thus
since she was six.
She shares her work,
she says, with “new-old friends,”
then disappears inside
in a box
on a ship
on the Yangtze
beyond the Three Gorges . . .
Stanley H. Barkan, Poet/Publisher of Cross-CulturalCommunications 239 Wynsum Avenue Merrick, NY 11566-4725/USA.
E-mails: firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com
Profile: www.thedrunkenboat.com (Summer 2002 Issue)