Bob Dylan is, to the best of my knowledge, the only songwriter to successfully rhyme outrageous and contagious, which doesn’t explain why I knew I could never be a successful songwriter in this life.
The explanation is far simpler, it was when Leonard Cohen served me tea and apricots, said he hated the river even living in Montreal and said I should pack off to Florida or California if I wanted oranges, though he said, if I ever visited China, if I’d see where their oranges came from.
We’re all older now, Leonard is dead and even Bob admits he’s not sure he’s younger now, but he says, Bob that is, that I need to get over keeping up with the Joneses, because in the final analysis, we are all Jones at the end.
He started digging early in the morning, and hoped that by lunch, he’d be well on his way there, though he wasn’t certain how he’d get up out of the hole when lunch rolled around, but need is a good instructor, so he was sure he could figure it out easily enough. It was slower going than he imagined, slower by several magnitudes. He knew that would play havoc with his plans, but he was capable of adjusting to circumstances, that was one of his strengths, he knew. When the day receded, he set the shovel aside and retreated home, knowing that he wouldn’t complete the task for at least another week, and the idea of having real Chinese food in China would have to wait, since he had to be in school every day or miss out on the First Grade perfect attendance award.
Richard Wilbur lives in Massachusetts and in Key West, Florida according to his dust jackets. If you set sail westward from San Diego you may find your dream of China, of the endless wall which draws the stares and wonder more foreboding more forbidden even than the city, which you visit to sate yourself of lights, sirens and the blood heat of steam grates. It is far easier than digging and far less dirty, and the walls of the sea rise more slowly. Once it was a risky journey the danger of the edge looming over the horizon, but then digging was no option, pushing deeper with your crude shovel, knees bloody, until, at last, you broke through with dreams of the dragon as you fell into the limitless void. Now you sail with dreams of the Pacific sky, although water has no need of names. The poet has grandchildren now, and it is to them to dream of the China that was.
First appeared in Midnight Mind, Number Two (2001) and again in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008)
Pangu* came by for a visit the other night. He tends to drop by uninvited. “Hate to call ahead,” he says, “it ruins the surprise.” He’s aged a bit since the last visit, and I told him he looked different.
“It’s just a look. It’s the same old me, but I tend to scare people. So I’m traveling under the name of Adam now,” and showed me a drivers license to confirm it.
I asked what he was doing for a last name, how he got the license without one.
“They tried to force it,” he said, “but when I told them you get that from your father, and I had none, they let it go.” He headed for the door.
I told him to take care of himself because we both knew that when he dies, a new universe will be born and it’s crowded enough around here already.
* Pangu is the first living being and the creator of all in Chinese mythology.