Dean Wu assigned me the task
of writing two poems
while my Lady and I visit Bing Yu Guo.
But now that Im here
sitting by the water
the breeze gently stirs
I see a pagoda
at the top of the mountain
across the water.
I see travelers climbing the steep path
and I know my friends assignment
is an impossible limit.
A sign tells me the places to visit
here at Bing Yu Guo --
The First Gate
Folk Sound of Cuckoo
Elephant Playing in Water
Pavilion for Viewing the Sun
A Ray of Sky
Drink in the Scenery Peak
Camel Looking for Water
Double Dragon Meeting
The Kindhearted Hall.
We declined the Deluxe Suite
staying instead in a Standard Room
to better experience the simple life
at Bing Yu Guo.
Our first evening Grace says the bathroom floor is wet.
In the morning I go to the head housekeeper
saying wanti problem - and shui water
my fingers signing falling water.
Soon a repairman attacks the drainpipe
finally installs a new one, smiling sweetly and nodding
and speaking a flood of optimism.
With a flashlight I see the raindrops
still falling to our floor.
I walk slowly across the bridge
looking up at the pagoda
at the trees clinging to the steep rock cliffs
lining the deep crevices.
A cool morning breeze touches my face.
The workman returns to mend
our personal rain in the afternoon
carrying a new sink and drainpipe
which he installs with great confidence.
He invites me to shine my flashlight again.
Sparkling drops of water fall from three new places now. .
Finally we move to a new room
with a dry floor and a larger window
through which we view the tall rock mountain
above the lake
and at the top, the pagoda.
Grace rests in the sun viewing the mountains
through our new window.
I walk through the canyon of Bing Yu Guo
photographing the tan and orange patterns of its rock walls
beauty visitors have celebrated century after century
here at Double Dragon Meeting
where the Ying Na River joins the Xia Yan River.
By the landing for the ferry that brought us from the road
I find a path through the woods.
A blue flower matches the vivid color of my silk shirt.
A white moth floats in the shady breeze.
A small bird with brown striped robe
hops along a branch pecking out its lunch.
But here in this ancient paradise
I also see junk food wrappers, cigarette packs,
discarded water bottles, plastic bags.
I gather the litter into a bag, just as I would at home.
As I approach a recycling bin at the landing
an attendant strides toward me glaring.
He points to my bag, shakes his head fiercely,
and motions me to leave.
I find the Chinese for trash in my dictionary,
as two other attendants, both shaking their heads,
join the scene. I cant find the word for paradise
to justify my inappropriate behavior.
Grace and I ride the electric cart
up the rocky canyon of the Xia Yan River
stop for juice at the crazy bridges crossing
choosing the one with rollers to reach the other side.
A boatman urges us to rent his bamboo raft,
poling along beside the path to persuade us.
Above us oaks and pines begin to appear
in the crevices of the high cliffs.
Around us families, all Chinese,
enjoy the scenery, the water,
the funny ways of my lady and me.
We are the only westerners in this beautiful canyon.
Grace rests at a riverside shop
with necklaces, bracelets, and cold drinks.
I walk up the river far beyond the reach of electric carts,
photographing flowers, ferns,
a butterfly at rest on a fan of white flowers..
I watch the light and shadows move across
a high mountain valley rising above me.
I pass a dozen rickshas sitting at odd angles
their bearers too engaged in a card game by the river
to invite me to ride like the leisure class of old.
Far up the canyon an old man sits on a stone by the path.
He speaks loudly to me hoping to break through my ignorance.
Finally he carefully unwraps the cloth covered box
he has carried for many kilometers,
opens its lid, and holds up a still frozen bar of sweet green ice.
He motions me to sit on a stone beside him
to enjoy this amazing delight.
When I return to Grace she is using our phrase book
to talk with the woman who sells necklaces and snacks.
Youd think they were dear old friends,
the way they look at each other.
She admires Graces earrings and Grace makes them a gift.
Her new friends face opens like the clearing sky
I saw lighting the mountains
just beyond the place where the butterfly rested.
Theres a shop across the bridge and around a mountain.
Every day I walk there very slowly
to buy peaches, plums, grapes, and nectarines.
Even, one day, a watermelon
to share with our lovely waitresses and bus boys.
Today Grace walks with me,
stopping to greet the Buddha
standing in his pagoda by the water,
to watch the climbers coming down the stairs
from the other pagoda at the top of the mountain,
to feel the cool afternoon breeze
blowing to us across the lake.
There are new apples,
golden yellow with a blush of pink,
large dark nectarines,
and the black grapes whose skin
slips off with a sweet burst of flavor.
This valley and canyons of Bing Yu Guo
these lakes and rivers, these rocky mountains
with their green cascades of foliage
this is surely the place
to taste the flavor of a new future
deep in the mouth of our past.