Desire, that lithe prelate of our affections,
Has called me here, to the open plain
Of that fiction which is our history.
She is always Babylon, that weighted wash of time,
That hangs upon her shoulders as a cloak translucent
Which denies detail and yet accents the curves
That draw the eye ever onward.
She was here when brick gave way to stone,
When memory's fragile ex-stasis was first confirmed in cuniform,
So that scribes might spend their dreary days dreaming
Of the warm of hidden flesh.
Four great kings of Assyrian rose up.
The first built empire, and drew all to his command.
The second made war for trade, and scattered power to the corners of the realm.
It was the third who slaughtered and gave new meaning
To words which did not yet exist when he enacted them.
And then came the last, the fourth.
And fourth he went, the bearer of his sun God's name,
To encompass all the world that was, from the Nile to the Indus.
But first to rule and reign in Babylon, and draw his shaft
The armies of this Assyrian king, meant for Egypt,
But destined to bleed upon this, the more ancient river,
Assaulted the walls three times. Each time to take her,
The history that she was, and was as living.
So he did strut before the walls, and claimed to encompass
The living city of eternity
As he claimed in broken syllables to have mastered the ancient tongue of Sumer.
But the wave that was his passion, though it washed aside that Babylon
Was in turn dashed in other lands, as repeated victories and defeats
Had dulled the lord of Nineveh to the realities of his realm.
And still, after, yet and so.
She remained, and remained Babylon.
Even as Ashur wept his golden sun god tears for his lost sons.
So am I standing before these, the opened gates
That both lead down into the distant revenants of our half forgiven past,
And upwards towards our unforgiven future.
Each stepped embossed with half-remembered names,
Of undead kings.
And in the echos that feint and faintly dwell in the shadows of my steps,
I know that as once the chariots of Assyria did turn and turn,
Never to find rest as they reached for control of this fertile crescent –
So too have we come to grief, striving to command
That black river upon which our history depends,
And which our future denies.
The weight of water, sand and time hunt us down,
and ancient errors wait, waiting to be reborn
from out of crypts laid down by washing waves
of people, power, place, wind and will.
In a tea shop, of old style and very near Tiananmen Square
It was February, in the Western view of the calendar, but here it was still new years, as the Chinese reckoned it. And here in the center of Beijing everything had a slight odor of gunpowder. They were in what was an old tea shop, but out the small front windows they could just capture the Forbidden City. Because the plan of the city was to have a depression right in the center of town - where Tiananmen, and Tiananmen Square were located – each one could sit by the window and stare out at the trees, bear and shivering, and watch the sun slowly move along the places of them. Of course, the tea shop was doomed - there was a map some distance away which scheduled its distraction to the week – but it would run to the last minute, and bring in Yuan – commonly called “quai” because of its character – to the Communist party regulars who owned it. From the outside, it was a century old, and made in the common practice of being one and a half stories tall. If one were to look at the outside, one would see nothing special, it was of the siheyuan, which if one did not know the meaning of, would still be recognized. It was an old form, common to streets and buildings from the last years of the Empire. And though one get not new the words that described them, one new instantly the forms which they took up.
In Beijing, this meant Chinese quadrangles resting between little alleyways – or siheyuan hutong – dilapidated alleyway with a strong wall, which occasionally one could see rooftops that promised a tantalizing courtyard. Too often this was not as it was, because the courtyard was drab with only the details on the ribbed roof. But the eye was drawn to the large open windows or doors, open to catch a glance. And occasionally, like this tea shop, it was as you would imagine it to be. Small windows that opened up to a large collection of ornate objects which one could see from the outside – but only just, if one looked.
Block by block the hutong alleyways were being knocked down – first at the third and second row, but then gradually eating its way to the center. It should be only two or three years before the larch trees laden streets which buttressed the Forbidden City would be dreamt into the dreams that older people had. Such was the fate of old relics, until a few are left, and then protected. It was the way of the old duck shops, with mounds of chun bing – the likely cooked pancakes that they are served with with all of the trimmings – cucumbers and sauce, and for the Southerners who partake of them – sugar.
But they were being austere, and staring out the small window next to two chairs, and taking tea made the old fashion way - which was a ritual in itself. One can observe the nature of it on YouTube, and try and make it your self – and then realize that there is something involved in the quietude that nothing else may capture. Perhaps you to may decide that there is nothing like this ritual in the West, and dedicate your self to mastering an intricate form. You will learn how to judge when oolong tea is just right for that mystical sense of plucking – and probably you will be devoted to one or another the Masters advice on how to crush the exact amount. Their are many steps to mastering this, and eventually you will realize you must go to Taiwan or China in regions where oolong tea is prepared. It will be a lifetime experience, and eventually being a oolong tea master would be the only choice for you to make – in fact, what other choice is there?
Obviously, there was a long pause between she and he, with their eyes dancing around both the inside of the tea shop, and outside to inspect the little area of treeless branches which cast a shadow on the inside; a form that could only be in winter: because they were deciduous not coniferous, and they were bare as the wind in the willows. And what is more, the branches moved constantly, because there was a light breeze that never stopped. Little snow falls in Beijing, but what they are is is manned made whether: in the form of a thick blanket of fog. This comes from the Northwest, and though people do not say so, it is from the low grade of coal that tromp down from the north. Since much of the electricity that Beijing has is from the same intense fog, a few people joke that in the olden days Beijing was cold because there was no heat, but now it is warm because there is no cold to be found. In Chinese it was an eight character insults. While not common beyond the vicinity of Beijing, it had force of huaidan – bad egg – in getting someone's attention. It was not as rude cause the variance synonyms for penis – where only a doctor or nurse would say yinling, which was the scientific term, and in stead would say jiji, or more literally because of its age jiba – among a host of other names from xiao didi – which was what a boy would say when he pissed his pants - all the way of to diao - which was to fuck, though whether that is positive or negative depends on the situation. And do not get me started on yindao. Though one of the authors would use mimi constantly to rhyme with the kitty cat purring as a synonym for breast milk, which was common in street language – but not in literary language. In Beijing zar was the common name for milk, of the human kind. And still the two of them sat, thinking of what to say. Because while I have been talking about the slang of Beijing, the two of them were sitting there each with something to say – but without the will to say it. 肏你祖宗十八代. 姥姥. It was at that moment that a pun formed in Chinese, it had to do with hutong and a close facsimile among the favorite swear words. But that was immediately covered over, because looking at her was the only thing which held his attention, though being a man there were little drabs of other thoughs going through his mind.
So instead they looked around the room, seen equipment used for making tea, and different varieties of the intoxicating liquor which it produced. They said a few things which were nothings about nothing. All the time there eyes were locked upon the other, but neither of them were yet drunk enough to say what they wanted in their spine. Because while heart is the Western expression, spine is the Chinese way – though how would be interpreted by the expression that the person used. Thus, they got up from the two wicker chairs, she leaving more than enough to cover the cost – it was very unusual to leave any tip, because that is not how things were done either in China or Europe, but she did so nonetheless – because her heart was beating very quickly from a secret. And even her companion would not know what this secret entailed, because it was something she had not told anyone, not even her much older brother. Which is why she suggested that they go to her older brothers school where he taught a very Western thing – how to play the accordion. He mumbled something, which she took as “yes”, and wrapped her arm along his, which descended into his pocket.
It was only then that he knew, not what the secret was, but that it was positive. Since they had already been sharing coitus, it would have to be more than this – though he did not know what. It was at this point he began to whistle, though it was not recognizable what the tune was, perhaps it was one of his own that he would write down eventually. Or perhaps it was a something that his great grandmother had taught him a very long time ago. If anyone knew, they were long since dead and buried.
From up out of the chairs, huddling together once the cold wind blew, and out in to the outside, where a Vista of branches intermingled with the sky, and touched the Tiananmen from the side. Her head rested on his shoulder, but that was obvious – he knew that she was his. And that was enough for him – today. And when his shoulder calmed – she knew that her message came across clearly, and that was enough for her. Many times the unspoken language needs to be re-spoken at a later time, when the two of them were ready to divulge secrets in language which they had already spoken by touch.