Coming across some old photos tucked in a half-forgotten Chinese-English dictionary…

year of the rabbit, she gravely disclosed
I’d asked her Chinese zodiac sign
we determined soon after that I was a dragon
in that secret cafe with unsipped wine

she drew me her life on a tiny white napkin
smiling hare in a close bamboo cage
and I thought it not too impetuous to live
in her world regardless my work or my wage

first her name was Judy told brightly with cheer
but I pressed her for the real Mandarin then
and softened with a smile at my Westernized thrust
she said Zhenyi, meaning ever precious friend

we spoke of countless things, even taboo Tiananmen
she heard my foreign account, honestly and hearty
all teachers she said, specially English professors
were carded members of the Communist Party

I can swear that her rivered black as black hair
exceeded easily two healthy feet flowing
oft was the time I’d play their thick and pure strands
in my hand stretched between our bikes going

once we bought a pineapple, repast for midday
and she bared it with a hacking blade Taoist style
the vendor sized us up, you can marry a foreign man?
she said I can if I want to, eyes all fury and smile

our loving tentative at the gorgeous beginning
guileless she’d moan assent and receptive sat
but next we met, she’d learnt the ancient Huang Di texts
stunning me with new postures; she was thorough like that

it was the laughter and her deep kindly thinking
kept my heart after frank dalliance to hers chained
and daring moon vows we made so easy and brazen
implausible promises not yet quite real or feigned

don’t have the wealth now to square off this debt
Zhenyi, and I never intended you unkind
but I couldn’t switch lives or so I believed
despite that secret cafe with unsipped wine

tears well when I think on our talks at the zoo
or the long train ride to Dali overnight
but I couldn’t switch lives or so I believed
despite that secret cafe with unsipped wine


[ Image : in a wilderness somewhere near Lufeng, 1990; I recall mushroom sellers from the mountains near Lufeng who displayed their colorful and varied hand-picked offerings on blankets in the street markets of Kunming city. These peasants would journey forty or fifty miles with their wares. Thirty years older than us, they could walk up steep hillsides as though they were escalators, putting us to shame. Zhenyi told me some of the green mushrooms gave colorful dreams. πŸ™‚ One time a Tibetan, his face brown with Himalayan wind, tried to sell me an actual tiger’s paw there. It’s size and the vivid orange hair fibers still live with me. Yunnan, by the way, is the province in the far southwest corner of China, bordering on Burma, now Myanmar. It is known for it’s year-round springlike weather, pristine mountains, and culture peppered by the folk traditions of about thirty different minority groups. ]Β 

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  1. The land south of the clouds is dear to my heart as well. Zhenyi is a real beauty. I just love the evocative repetition of the image of unsipped wine. You can hold onto memories longer and richer when they remain in the glass.


    1. You never fail to add to my thinking in interesting new ways. Thanks always for your comments, Amaya. Yes, Yunnan is a special place with an aura all it’s own. I was just beginning to explore the extremity regions of it, Dehong & Xishuangbanna, when my biography said time to leave. πŸ™‚


  2. This is beautiful and heart wrenching, and that question so haunting… whether we can “switch lives”.
    I love the photos too!
    (I thought I was following you and wondered why I never saw your posts. WP. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ)


    1. I can wholeheartedly agree about the heart wrenching part. πŸ™‚ Thanks very much. Not sure about the following business… it could have to do with fact that I took a whole year from writing, and only resumed in early April. Thanks for comment!


      1. Hmm I guess that could be part of it haha. I haven’t been blogging either but really needed to make the time to do some WP reading. I’ve missed everyone’s wonderful talent!
        I can only imagine what went through your heart when you found these photos!
        Thanks for sharing in such a moving way.

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