The grass grows. The rain falls
Nothing is done. Nothing is left undone
A day can be perfect. I have to believe this.
Today was. Is. Is was a day in china.
The sun breaking through today after yesterday’s typhoon. Lazy walk to the coffee shop. Practice chinese with young cook dreams of more tells his long story. Reassure him—yes—as good as anything in america. Wished really wished Denise was there. Our every Saturday Sunday trips to serendipity cafe in maynard reborn borne in hangzhou city.
Sweet, strong coffee. Cool clean breeze off sidewalks scrubbed clean by yesterdays torrential rain. Kids running from store to store. Buy muffin there. Fruit here. Dough sticks from roadside vats bubbling oil. Dumplings steaming in scalded trays. Creamy warm milk in plastic bags fattened with sugar. Running skipping hopback to grandmothers. “The waiguo ren [foreigner] spoke to me!” I feel incredibly alive. Placed. Content…old men sweep leaves torn from trees and bushes with brooms made of broken branches and bundles of lashed twigs. We nod to each other like it is a universal tongue. Yes. I get it. I understand without words stammered out of meagre vocabularies. Life transposed on life. Strangely I miss my motherfatherunclesaunts long gone and imagine them beckoning from the park benches steaming in wet morning heat…wisps of smoke rising to balconies draped with flowers laundry tv sets bikes slipping into alleyways filled with poverty love confirmation…always always always a confirmation celebration of age. Dignity. Grace. Acceptance.
I hear Mister Toe’s taxi incessant horn in morning traffic like bellowing from barges on the pulsating sighing unrepentant river. “Come, come. Sorry, Sorry I overslept…” We. Rob. Dave. Me. Cramming our oversized bodies into impossibly small car. More beeping weaving avoiding. A mass (a liturgy almost) of traffic people bikes scooters busses trucks. A city so huge expanding towering with belief in tomorrow acceptance of today democracy of common life. We are all here. We are all here. It has to work. It has to. It does. It really does. It stretches the clothes of my perceptions preconceptions prejudice anticipations. I wear the disbelief like a shawl in the rain. In the tangle of work obligation progress crossing dodging manoeuvring there is no anger—no words to take back regret amplify justify. No righteousness, fingers, pissed off anythings. Simple reassurances that no one is alone. Listen I we you are here. We are not travellers. We are embedded like silk in a fluid tapestry. We are was is.
It has to be a word: isness. We are dropped into the isness of what simply irretrievably is… We are dropped into a warm busy teeming broth of humanity. We shake like dogs on muddy banks and run to our buildings. Work. Work. Work. It is all work. It is all family. It is all friends. It is all there is—a jigsaw of sameness oneness isness. It is a common world of commonness. Fair and unfair in the same accepted fated breath. My head still can’t wrap around it. I am an American. Damnit. An American. I let go of worrying that it matters. The private goal is the collective goal. I am not sad detached wandering wondering. I am going to work. I am going to do what I need came want should must do.
The kids are waiting for us. Us. Me. Rob. Dave. Old americans. Proud americans. Proud americans come to teach preach perfect tentwelvethirteenfourteen year olds and young startled dreamy suddenly beset by reality sweet loving accepting yearning teachers. A few days ago experts now we are common and is. Three waiguo ren clambering laughing going to have to work. Three teachers going on a Sunday field trip to pick grapes on a farm—a muddy farm outside the city clung between city and mountains. Purgatory. God on one side. Maybe both sides. Maybe purgatory is perfection. Maybe. But today is action not reflecting dust of yesterday. Old peasant women lead us to grapes in groping heat smiling pointing painting coaxing cajoling. Their faces wear long march Mao hunger I have been there and there and there. There too.We nod our vocabularies in gestures and broken guttural primal vestal sounds. The kids meanwhile are kids. kids. kids. Nothing is unreal, unexpected, overdone impressive. More isness. Love. Compassion. Ballets of energy stories leaping stretching reaching towards bundles of fruit—putao, yaomei, pinguo—grapes, strawberries, apples: Sameness. Isness. Happiness. Yes. True happiness. America. China.
Sadness, thinking, wanting, remembering (screaming almost in a vacuum) for my own children to just be here. Not there. Engulfed awed renewed in new hampshire summer camp. Cool clear waters. Stars plucked out sky summer camp. Away. Happy without me. For me. Because of me. Alongside a clay shored quiet stream I share pictures of my kids with these kids—my students—precious precocious indefatigable youth. I need them to know that I am as real their mothersfathersunclesaunts. Each image turned and studied like a textbook. This is what we all learn. This is what we all learn: love. Today’s lesson is love and picking and dancing and remembering and wanting and being indefatigable youth. Infinite tomorrows and yesterdays cloven and jammed into the impossibly small taxi of today. Beeping horns of love in every direction. These are my children. My children in america. They were born when you were born. Cried when you cried. Woke in terror-filed nights like you. Laughed in school-yards like you. Jammed into expectations like you. We them they are together altogether the crazy world of stitched cultures woven by old men and old ways with broken dreams and unbridled ignorance—children together altogether born again in games of minecraft, tag, hide and seek, pushing unwanted food away, grabbing devouring celebrating…They are born and will be borne. Within. Without. Beside. Before. They are. Need to be: every thought every action every dream. My family is our textbook of love. Denise is the mother. I am the father. Here is our universe. Our textbook. Endless flow of sometimes words sometimes action always love always is. Isness of opportunity chance fate desire hammered in the mystic forge of love determination persistence stubborn clinging to flotsam idyllic isles key wests of dreams words nods limits distant horizons figuring out giving a damn…
In the city again playing team tag in an empty mall detritus of progress. The children lead me hide me cajole me protect me old and vulnerable behind columns arching over western sloth: armani, hilfiger, levi, scotch, shoes, handbags. Lean away as if this floor is a diseased ward: typhussed smallpoxed malarial—a story cried in bold decay and impeccable ruin. We win the the game. We win the running man game: Me. The old teacher. Old Laoshi. The youngest kids. Smallest kids by far. We won. We won, I said, because we did not attack. We protected. We won candy. That was all the mattered. Grabbing devouring celebrating turned over to parents eager for harvard princeton mit. Turned over to endless days nights life of work homework absolute perfection. What is your favourite game Shelley. (I asked her on Friday) I said—you must have a favourite game. I do not play games she said she meant it lived it was it and today she played as if there was no tomorrow. Just the isness joy release of a penitent shorn of sin. I pray. I really do. Pray that today had enough rebar to sustain the weight of her play. Play Shelley. Play. Parents maybe only happy she says goodbye to us in english. We. Dave. Rob. Me. We are from Boston. Good schools in Boston. But today. Today was a better school. A mystic forge. Orb resting on pinnacle. East. West.
I wished I shouted—You should see the small towns. Go to the small towns. It is all I know. All I can teach live pray do. It is my is. Go to the mountains that cling to your horizons west of the city of hangzhou. Small villages pocked by endurable endless persistence perfection of patience forbearance love. Do not go to shanghai to the east. It is too close to boston harvard princeton mit. Pick grapes strawberries apples. Fresh fruit. Pithy flesh hung on bones. What Mao could not let be. What we you can’t taste. Rich soil. Soil fed depleted fed depleted fed depleted. Irony. Displacement. The high huge glassy towers of hangzhou sucking in the countryside. Families cleaved apart at the juncture of sinews. Depleted. Fed by wisps of dreams promises borne on trains scooters carts sodden shoes. Here is heavy coal diesel haze parade of weaving dodging fate of progress regression progress regression. Dreams. Unforgivable dreams. Trapped. Living. Celebrating. Coins trapped in mud, sledge hammered into mastheads of concrete steel glassy towers beaked cranes endlessly lifting dream on dream on dream with spindly cables. The captain speaks. The ship sails: straits of Skylla. Ahab. Odysseus. Hydra. Whale.
The only way out is through. We. Rob. Dave. Me. Resist exhaustion easy to return home to sleep morph ourselves into another taxi-cab to the markets on hufang jie—the street near west lake: mad market of many everything every pedlar ever peddled. I try to film the scene and spin slowly. Then delete everything. It tells nothing really of what the scene is doing to me in me through me. More of that isness which really is what I feel: senses synapses bursting lighting arcing thought to thought sense to sense. I find myself drawn to old china: the old artists patiently waiting for anyone no one to pay 300 kuai for a ten minute portrait flash in the enormity of life. I just say wo meiyo nemmo duo dian. I do not have that much money…and try to get words palpable breath memories from them to me. Some kind of connection that is nod-like real conversation betweens souls and not cultures. They smile and get it. No painting is real just the finger pointing at the moon.
But not the moon itself. Not the moon itself.
The wizened ancient woman sitting waiting on a bench with me waiting on the bench warm smile big laugh looking at me and sway smiling in the closing hours of the day while menwomanchildren pass by stare. Munch: crabs four to a stick spitting out pulpy entrails brittle shells. Whole fish speared on skewers eyes pleading smothered gasping in air bellies ripped quickly skewered over fire. Sucking duck heads taste good really boiling in languid bath of oily broth. Squid speared too and tied with flaccid tentacles clove hitch bowlines fast to boom of death continuance birth and rebirth. Depleted. Fed. Depleted. Fed. Joy. Everywhere joy. Families. Lovers. Friends. Eat. Drink. Twist their ways through pulsating crowd hawkers beggars who always find me. African engineers diplomats. Some few americans who too cool maybe want need to avoid me or maybe just embarrassed to be american mistaken for tourist. I am your thorn. I want to call your bluff expose the absurdity of your truth. I am the proud american who says hey first who always never turns my head down sideways askance. Practiced feints. Enervating avoidance. Are you alive as me I want to say.
And then this old woman lady maybe once madame on shady bench makes me more alive sucking vestigial memories wisdom lessons pain loss everything that humanity wears probably like (or is) Penelope and me maybe I have returned to hearth destroyed by vagaries of fate. But no gods to praise thank remember resist blame. My temporal isness. Her isness. My fraud of words no match for hers—Go. Go. You go slowly. Through life? Next stall bench store hawker home? I do not take any more pictures. I look for Rob. Obscenely tall american god. Dave’s loud laugh cleaves the market like a village on the edge of mountains. The waypoints of this journey descent ascent. Drawn to siren songs. Us. Them. We and eddie and bill…We are in orbit around each other sucked in by gravity of familiar mutual assured levity and forbearance. Necessity. Will. Mere inclination.
Together we laugh and laugh and laugh. Trundle. Limp. Like old beggars under sacks knocked kneed backs bellies twisted by raw fish frogs roe jellyfish snake chewing sucking bones fat sinews of fated fowl flesh noodles grain liquor. I am like a child twirling in an arc bound to them following them completing them each other. We wend like untethered box cars towards hazy mountains draped in wispy belching of young factories insistent on more and more for them and we and me always wanting never really resting on that pinnacle orb. West Lake first sun in days floating outside of gravity. Sidewalks stretching cars busses people skirting going to ignoring beckoning the sun reminder of impermanence setting into west lake antiquity.
Out of tune street singer croaking swooning moon river beside crazy intersection maddened crazed by plastic steel sticky tar of importance. I have to need to want to do grab his guitar. Please. One song only. Crazy foreigner. Proud american. Lean on me I sing and mean it more than ever in pub club grass engulfed gazebo in small american town. I am an amalgam of vanity pretence sorrowful primal need to be will be heard. This is me. This is me. This is me. One song only and leave flattered full of plastic importance towards dissolving sun woven into perfect random intersection of elm sycamore willows leading beckoning drawing us to the lake. West Lake. Like faith. Unerring assurance of the improbable happening before us. Rob the improbable god. Daves unerring laugh and me scrunched on impossibly small bench lapped by ancient waters temples herons cleave the sky. Carp swirl to the surface. Cicadas scream from lowing branches. We. Rob. Dave. Me. We are a small sea. Mouth of river. Still cove. Dribbling stream awed and attached to dynasties. Histories. Stories. Mystic forging of lost regained recreated stories. Meticulously recorded guarded preserved in amber. Tradition. Remembrance. Disassembling the moment. Isness of this day. This perfect day.
Xenia. Peace. Disbelief of fate luck circumstance. We are the same stream melded out of all waters retreating returning cleansed. We buy soda from a machine. Check our phones. Remember to remember something. Fed. Depleted. Locked and freed by common things needs even dreams. We. Rob. Dave. Me. We hail a cab and return home.
I am a speck in this night. A single lamp in a concrete tower trapped high above the qiantang river. I do not have the power of the distant barge—dark shadow in moiling water carrier of mystery reality actual substance. I’ll go to sleep and dream: simple dreams unfettered dreams. Cranes. Skeletal steel wires pulleys resting on unfilled towers tentacled to muddy earth earth sucking shores sheathed in mirrors dated in hope need want. Escalators ascending descending everywhere. Hades. Heaven. Home. Solid places. Joy of with for in spite of because of kids. Indefatigable. And maybe please please please always release me from vanity terror of myself just give me me and you and your love—Isness. Perfect perfected solidity of remembrance.