Magic

Yesterday I went out to the garden to pick basil before the sky let loose with a gully washer. Bees were buzzing around the squash! A hummingbird was deriving the maximum benefit from the red flowers of the Scarlet Emperor Beans and the pink sweet pea against the house.

That tiny little garden out there is, in its way, as magical as the Big Empty. The other day I picked two green beans from Li Bai and ate one raw. It was incredibly sweet. I’ve never tasted a green bean like that. I almost felt like it was saying in its bean way, “Thanks for planting us, Martha.”

DOWN ZHONGNAN MOUNTAIN 
TO THE KIND PILLOW AND BOWL OF HUSI

Down the blue mountain in the evening, 
Moonlight was my homeward escort. 
Looking back, I saw my path 
Lay in levels of deep shadow…. 
I was passing the farm-house of a friend, 
When his children called from a gate of thorn 
And led me twining through jade bamboos 
Where green vines caught and held my clothes. 
And I was glad of a chance to rest 
And glad of a chance to drink with my friend…. 
We sang to the tune of the wind in the pines; 
And we finished our songs as the stars went down, 
When, I being drunk and my friend more than happy, 
Between us we forgot the world. 

Li Bai

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/25/rdp-saturday-magical/

Quotidian Update 4,903.a.2x.8

Frondescence? Leaves. It’s just green. All of it everywhere. All over the damned place, and I have to mow some of it. Soon, it looks like, but last time I got by with three weeks. Longer grass sends down deeper roots, good for the lawn in the long run.

The trees are green and sending branches over my yard that I have to cut down. The egregious weed-elms are popping up all over, and I have to pull them out because in about 15 minutes they become big-ass trees that are a big-ass problem. I have four of those to deal with, too. Home ownership? The ONE advantage is big dogs. I get the whole condo thing now in ways I never got it before. Building equity is a young person thing.

It’s funny when you retire no one hands you a list of the changes in your life and perspective that are likely to happen.

But there is the other side which is that it’s continually amazing to me that I can put a nearly microscopic seed into a peat pot and two little leaves will emerge. At that point, my nurturing instinct kicks in, and I start caring for those little beings as IF they had souls or could become president someday. The grim reality of their future lives — that they’re going to end up in caprese — and somewhere down the road the frost is going to get them, plays no role in the early spring ritual of “I wonder if I dare put them out before June?”

Of course, one or two DO go out before June and the results are always the same.

I’m not a “gardener” per se. I don’t care what my flowers look like. I’m not an ardent cultivator of my garden beds. It’s really too painful. Nothing really hurts my arthritic knees more than bending over to take care of anything. This summer I’ve seen that I have to do something about this, but this is not, obviously, the summer for that.

Everything out there this year is very happy. They turn their little solar collectors to the sun that hits my narrow strip of garden and they grow. They’ve helped me see what to do with my yard when I’m ready to ($$$). I’ve seen that I didn’t need a deck except to define the space and to help my neighbors financially. I don’t use it and don’t imagine I ever will, much. I haven’t even put up the umbrella. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it — I like it a lot. But what I like most is hanging around the bean plants.

Now, my favorite poem by Li Bai who is now approaching 8 feet tall…

Visiting Han-tan: The Dancers at the Southern Pavilion

They sang to me and drummed, the boys of Yen and Chao,
Lovely girls plucked the sounding string.
Their painted cheeks shone like dazzling suns;
The dancers’ sleeves shook out like blossoming boughs.
Bringing her wine I approached a handsome girl
And made her sing me songs of Han-tan>
Then the lutes were played, and coiling away and away
The tune fell earthward, dropping from the grey clouds.
Where is the Prince of Chao, what has he left
But an old castle-moat where tadpoles breed?
Those three-thousand knights that sat at his board,
Is there one among them whose name is still known?
Let us make merry, get something in our own day
To set against the pit of ages yet unborn.

Li Bai (trans. Arthur Waley)

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/08/rdp-wednesday-frondescence/

Mid-Autumn Festival

Quiet Night Thoughts
Li Bai, Tang Dynasty (1300 years ago…)

床前明月光
疑是地上霜
举头望明月
低头思故乡

Moonlight before my bed
Like frost on the ground.
Lifting my head, I see the moon,
Lowering my head, I miss my home.

***

The canals between the rows of cabbages reflect the full moon. I ride my “Wu Yang,” a locally made “Five Rams” bike. Flash, flash, flash—the moon, the dark, the moon, the dark, the moon shines from the still water. Beside me dark lorries roll, their headlights dimmed. The bicycle has the right of way. Mist sifts across the road between the white-painted trunks of eucalyptus trees. The moon in south China is not the moon anywhere else. Even poets have said so.

“Teacher, why are you smiling?”

“Because I’m here. I’m teaching and I’m in China.”

“You’re smiling because you are here? Or do you laugh at our poor English?”

I am stunned. “You speak English well.”

“No, no we don’t. We know our English is very poor.”

“No, truly, it’s very good.”

“You are being kind. Our English is poor.”

I do not yet know about the trap of Chinese humility.

“Don’t you miss your home?”

I think momentarily of the Rocky Mountains and a few friends, but no. Ever since reading Richard Halliburton’s travel adventure books from my mother’s library I have wanted to go on “the royal road to romance.” That my first road led to a Chinese university was a stroke of good luck I never could have imagined. I smile constantly and this makes my students suspicious.

“I’m happy. I love China. I love to teach.”

“How can you love China and love America?”

What is patriotism? My own country could not possibly give me THIS opportunity. I am my own world.

“I love them both.”

“And us?”

I look behind me at the large character poster above the chalkboard. “Noble Spirit, Proud Beauty,” it says in English.

***

“The Moon Festival is the festival of distant family and friends,” I am told by one of my graduate students. “The Chinese eat round things because they look like the moon. The children carry moon-shaped lanterns. We recite poetry and think of people far away. We know our relatives and friends at home are doing the same, so though we are far away from each other, we look at the same moon. You will love it.” 

Outside the door to my apartment I find an ornately decorated box. Inside are mooncakes, a gift from my students. They are filled with red bean paste with a perfect round egg yolk in the center. The moon.

***

Just a week later I take the train to Hong Kong to meet up with two friends from Colorado, one a wealthy old man I am fond of; the other is my former boss who is traveling with him. My old friend was born in China, near Tianjin. His father was a missionary for the YMCA. His family left China during the Japanese invasion. The old man sends me out to find some cotton undershirts for him and a cane. He has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and walking is increasingly difficult. On my way back to the ship, I stop in a bakery and buy mooncakes. When I hand him the brightly printed shopping bag with its picture of the Moon Goddess, Chang O, his eyes glow with pleasure. “Oh my, oh, Martha! Mooncakes! I have not had these since I was a child.” Time and memory distill in his blue eyes and slide down his channeled cheeks. His hand reaches for mine.

***

There is no way for me to go back. Even the boy who carried my heavy trunk up three flights of stairs to my apartment is now a man in his sixties who writes me from Toronto telling me how Qi-Gong helps him with his aches and pains. I remember his stories of the Cultural Revolution when he was sent north to work in a machine shop in Luoyang. He spent ten years in mind-numbing drudgery staying up late to learn English from the Voice of America. His ancestry was mixed, his mother bourgeois, his father a poor peasant, a Party member. When the Gang of Four was overthrown, he was too old for college, so he worked as an interpreter, assistant, and spy for the Wai-Shi Ban, Foreigner’s Office, at my university. I helped him come to the U.S. to study and he got a B.A. from NYU. 

“Dear Sister,” he writes in an email. “You are a better Chinese than me. I forgot Mid-Autumn Festival! Thank you for your good wishes!”

***

Time and space are not convergent only at the outer edge of the universe; they converge everywhere, every moment. I search the Internet looking for cheap tickets to China. I imagine going back when I retire, but with perfect certainty I know there is no way. 

China is a bus on which I am riding that has stopped for no reason on Chong-Shan Wu Lu (5 Sun Yat-Sen Road) in downtown Guangzhou on a late spring afternoon. Through the window I see a public telephone. It is an old black phone on a wooden desk in front of a building. A Chinese man in glasses and a white shirt sits behind the desk taking tickets from people waiting for their turn to make a call to someone far away. In the shadows, I notice a tall, dignified, white-haired, blue-eyed, white man in a blue silk padded coat. He is leaning against a building as all the raging race of China’s modernization passes in front of him. We make eye contact for a fraction of a second before he abruptly turns and goes inside. That is China; that man, that blue coat, that furtive moment, and now it is something else.

*Originally published in Business Communication Quarterly Volume: 70 issue,188-191 June 1, 2007. Now included in As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

Quiet Night Thoughts
Li Bai

Before my bed, the moon is shining bright,
I think that it is frost on the ground.
I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
I lower my head and think of home.

My first Chinese holiday was this. I didn’t understand it at all. We all (students, teachers, everyone) sat at long tables outside on the “playground” which was really a big track encircling a soccer field. Kids carried round red lanterns. We ate moon cakes and pomelos, neither of which I had eaten before. My students asked me, “Teacher, are you missing home?” I had been in Guangzhou for two weeks. I was missing the mountains of Colorado, but nothing else (as of then).

It is a poem to homesickness and longing. Li Bai had been sent to the frontier, far away from friends and his family. As he looked at the moon, he knew his friends and family back home were looking at it, too, so they were not so far apart after all.

This is the most famous poem in Chinese, written by China’s most loved poet. Li Bai lived 1300 years ago. I have a little statue of him sitting on a shelf. He watches me write, and he has watched me for more than 30 years.