If you have fine china
you will be saddened when it breaks.
If your pantry is full
your anxiety grows
as the food diminishes.
But if you are alone
with nothing, the apple
that falls on the road
is a feast, and the stream
runs free with the finest wine.
The silence of sun and moon
is an orchestra.
A reflection on case 52 of the Iron Flute Koans
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.