On the Road To Denver in a Coat and Tie,
I Think of My Old Friend Master Red Pine
and the Example He Inspires

You had to stop giving blood
for a living, it was killing you
in a different way than ordinary work.

"Hey, all I want to do," you always said,
"is just stay up here on Yangming Mountain
and translate Buddhist poems,

"And take hot sulphur baths,
drink spring green tea and
have the three German girls come up on weekends
bearing gifts of Glenfiddich and sandalwood fans."

Admirable as this agenda was,
you finally had to get a job--

    (Even your sideline manuscript,
    purloined from Mimi,
    called: White Girls in Asia,
    languished in your lacquer desk.)

duty-running for a gang of merchants
operating out of Hongkong and Taipei.

You flew so frequently,
Cathay Airlines bestowed on you
its Marco Polo Gold

(What's that goddamn thing, Red?)

with all its perks and privileges:
access to the Marco Polo Lounge,
free drinks and implied flirtation rights
with native-costumed flight attendants.

(Hey, Red, can we see that card?)

On trips, of course, you wore
a coat and tie, which as you said
was disingenuous, but modern Chinese disguise,
and even hooked your younger brother
into flying (sort of shotgun) at your side.

Green rice-paddies near Taoyuan;
Laundry-draped balconies of high-rise Kowloon;
Neat hinoki woodlots near Narita;
The river fog from the Han at Kimpo--

All glimpsed from a tiny window
going into, or falling out of,
the clouds.

(Hello, Mr. Pine, so good to see you again,
your room is 405; my, that's a beautiful
arm of watches, Mr. Pine.)

The duty-runner:

Your bags stuffed with nylons, dresses,
the latest hand-held instruments, toys,
electronic devices, gizmos, gimcracks,
chocolates, cosmetics, vitamins,
shoes, oil-paper parasols and saki.

And yes, the Rolex watches
wearing hairless and smooth the skin
on your left arm.

A technically not illegal end-run
(except, perhaps, for the watches)
around government Customs
to bring cheaper goods
to all the yearning markets of Asia's
teeming tariff-burdened folk;

Our border-opening hero:
("Here little Wang, a toy from Hongkong.")
Our jet-age Robin Hood:
("This tape will self-destruct...")
And a whole bag of tricks
& monkeyshines, off-the-cuffs, up-the-sleeves,
under-the-tables, now-you-see-its, now-you-don'ts,
hair-raising, white-knuckle adventures and escapes
in the Kafkaesque ports of entry,
in the tidal confluence of commerce and thieves.

Just to get back
to a cup of fragrant tea
and the four-line songs
of Cold Mountain--Han Shan--

who wiped his hands of the "red dust"
more than a thousand years ago
for a thatched hut,
some peace of mind,
and the immortal mists
of the Heavenly Terrace Mountains,

and wrote:

        "You're all a band of angels
         in a leaking boat at sea."

Mike O'Connor | Summer Day at South Pavilion
Contents | Mudlark No. 7