Jul 082020
A rich re-telling of a Chinese ghost story in play form.

                          the gods corrupt
us; though I never suffered their abrupt
seductions, shattering advances, I
too bear their sensual lightnings in my thigh.
I too am dying.
                      ----- Phaedra, Robert Lowell, Racine

Human beings are to be pitied!

You've found that out!

Yes. Life is hard, but love conquers all.
Come and see!
                     ----- A Dream Play, August Strindberg




[Mrs Chang's visiting room.] MRS CHANG Dear daughter, Chien-nu, always tapping at the mirror, always sighing and saying, with infinite regret repeating: "When will I be taller! Breasts, come out now, now is the time for Wang Wen to arrive, dropping his glory into my life under the plum trees, transfiguring the house-garden with romance." She does not know what she says! She is not ready for the love of a man, his mysterious speeches and strange allure. She is not ready to look such high excitement in the eye. Not yet, not yet. [Enter SERVANT.] SERVANT Mrs Chang! Mrs Chang! There is a stranger at the gate, and he has the look of trouble about his person. He is smiling and whistling at the strangest things. Chou-chou the old pup came running up to him, biting his silks, and he smiled as if he were being licked and kissed! MRS CHANG He is too happy, for certain, whoever he is. The years are too evil for this lightness of heart. Fetch him in. I will discover his fancy plans and spit them out too; like these plum pits. [MRS CHANG spits out the pit of a plum she's been chewing into a lacquer dish. SERVANT escorts WANG WEN in. CHOU-CHOU is chew-chewing his pant leg.] SERVANT I am announcing a Mr Wang Wen. WANG WEN The seven austerity-slackening courtesies to you, dear lady. What name's this rascal go by anyway: Nevah-been-fed? MRS CHANG The thousand fanning how-dos due to a houseguest to you, Wang Wen. WANG WEN Thank you. May the bones of your ancestors never be played upon by your enemies. MRS CHANG Thank you. Why are you here, Wang Wen? I did not call you out yet. But like an irreligious owl who forgets his devotions in the dark, you come blinking to my house in this early daylight. WANG WEN The early thaw this year is uncustomarily gracious to travellers, and I am anxious to see the delights of the world. Even the most studious owl must sauce his books with sunshine now and again. And I was soon to be on my way to the imperial examinations anyway. So.... MRS CHANG What have you got there, under that sly smile? What are you doing grinning and walking in here as if you owned the town? WANG WEN I own myself. I guess that makes me happy. Not a lot to worry about, if you've only got yourself. MRS CHANG You are a poor boy, now that your father's dead. Your inheritance fell to your brother, who is off in the shipping business in Peking. WANG WEN I guess I came here to increase my sorrows and collect a wife promised to me before my birth. ---No matter, I'll honor my familial obligations. [CHIEN NU pokes her head into the doorway. She watches silently.] MRS CHANG Your politeness covers discourtesy. Stand there. Be silent. WANG WEN [Aside, looking at CHIEN NU.] I am watching her. Is she seeing my heart? CHIEN NU I keep my careful eye upon his hands, not regarding his face of moonlight unless he is turning away. This way, I keep my modesty. Oh, if he could only see how my thighs and eyes are wet with sick waiting beneath my embroidered silks and blue eyelids. MRS CHANG [Aside, to SERVANT.] What is to be done! His family's penniless! SERVANT He's got a cocky tilt to his head. The proverb is: Be bold in all things. MRS CHANG He's that, alright. WANG WEN Eyes, eyes, how shall you master this brightness? CHIEN NU Each day, I shall end my day swaled and scented in his dark, consoling silks. Yes! MRS CHANG [Sharply.] And you have not passed your exams yet. Is that right? WANG WEN The great mystery is before me. CHIEN NU I am so tenderly made, if he looks at me again with those oceans of his eyes, I shall dissolve! WANG WEN [Closing his eyes.] Eyes shut, mastering their darkness.... MRS CHANG Everything's too uncertain. My first obligation is to marry my daughter well and increase the family wealth. WANG WEN [Not bearing to look at CHIEN NU.] How is your daughter, Mrs Chang? She looks well. MRS CHANG Chien Nu! Take Wang Wen to see the garden. CHIEN NU Yes mother, right away. Please, sir, this way. [Exit WANG WEN and CHIEN NU.] MRS CHANG I've decided. No marriage until he passes his exams. SERVANT When he has the prize, he will be a prize, and Peking's embroidered ladies, who buzz the examination's chambers and with beetle-brows overlook the winner's list will attack his new carriage on the instant in the street like june bugs on a gorse bush, madam. MRS CHANG Still, I've decided. No turning back now. What else can I do, hmm? Damn it all. It's not easy being a widow and running things. You try it. SERVANT I am but a poor servant, and have no great household to run. MRS CHANG Nor any prospect to get one, like that. Stop your stropping back-talk, at once, or you could have the grandest roof of all --- under the stars. SERVANT I am silence. **** Top^


[The garden.] CHIEN NU Our green garden is not so dour as my widowed mom. WANG WEN However dour, I see she is yet adorned by her daughter's heightened blossoms. CHIEN NU The love-eschewing yew breeds darkly in her eyes. Her stunted, wounded earth is gashed wide alive only to welcome cold coffins now. Even the bearded pinecone's winter seeds (accustomed to bring forth life in harshest seasons) are blown ungerminating across her lap of snow. She'll have no other children besides myself. Her dirt heart's gone under with the onion, spaded sourly beneath life's sweetness, layered away from our mutual doing light of day with bitter remembrance for her only company. WANG WEN There seems some wrongness in those so aloof (as a maiden bee that flies highest for her mating) that they from Nature's sweet open treasuries can receive no honied cup of succor for their peculiar thirst, although the honey is such that thrives the busy, common hive. CHIEN NU This sensual glade is yet a pleasant garden, and for all the world I know none greener to foster loving endurance and courage beyond the razing, raving times of grief. When summer's hushen heats proclaim the healthful virtues of this quiet place loud as whispers, where this sun-bussed bank of daylilies blows, such tiny trumpeting as sounds out of the azeleas' muted throats soundlessly aglow almost, until shy silence herself does seem to break her convent quiet and speak her matin prayers into the dawn, such triumphant trumpeting, I say, ---though silent as ashes else--- in my willing heart does find a hearing ear. And their beauty, their happy silent song I carry with me where I go. WANG WEN Strange story! What's the shadowy history of this horn-crowed garden abrupt with trumpets that find their choir in silences? This garden that in busy brightness is so loud against my eyes it shouts the rainbow back to a single color! What has caused this prismatic miracle to occur back in some dark stretch of place that I can't see the reasons now, and plain as burning, of how this singing garden takes the light so sunningly it outdoes the petalled flamings of the sun? CHIEN NU Here my father's buried, a spirit interred, that gives to common dirt a holy aura (for they say a dear death makes questioning Life more lucid for that afterlife's backlighting). Many cold gone dawns ago he broke his back upon his miller's waterfalling wheel and stopped their grinding gears with his grinding agonies. He screamed, as like to pierce the sky in which he hung, harmed and helpless above us.... And then he came pulled back to ground by six men (forever calm and sage in peaceful death as in roaring life he was agitated) to lay like a firstling leaf inside a unplucked bean in his lacquered box beside those tumbledown graves. O he is not so restless in perfect heaven now as to come ghosting down among us again in any form of visitation. No, we never see him at all, although I'd swear some acre of light in this garden knows him. And so my mom, guideless, assumes her more awful guises, frowning at strangers, and repeating worn advice like a pastor's long-memoried homilies, and stales her conversation. What masks we wear to visor our eyes from frank sunlight, hiding in our pretending skins! So she buries all her old hopes in old rituals again and again, inferring comfort from repetition. WANG WEN Lead me; let's walk a narrow furrow farther on unseeded by death. CHIEN NU Every inching step of life takes some print of poison as it goes-- WANG WEN And yet here what's buried does come again, and fragrantly inherits the air that closets us about. CHIEN NU True. The crocus bud no matter how often shovelled under always erects itself to find the spring again in fresh-gilded progeny, and stalks the new air first of all the flowers, although it is the earliest dier too. WANG WEN First in death and first in life renewed. CHIEN NU All mirror-backwards, this procession that might be as easy as life to life, and life to life again, lacking blank death's heavy intercession. But come; over there the weighty willow hangs in lofty ease, and makes even bouyant Spring an occassion for yawns and couches. WANG WEN It seems a pleasant way away. CHIEN NU Is it always the singing lesson of a fable to aria forth what artless nature shows us plain, and double in mirror-mangling singing the simple doings of simple nature thus? WANG WEN If we could tell ourselves a story as awesome as a sun-headed daylily peers (and in humble glory out-judges the wildflower field that hedges its soft nobility, adjourning all the meadow's mellow whispers with its sigh, in easiest happiness as ignorant as joy) so that merely to look upon its open hues or hear it shush the air that waggles it steals the laurel from our painters and leaves our poor panting poets breathless, why then, I guess we could fable our existence from a syllable, history roses with new scents, charm the sun to darkness with a black chant, river mysteries from a melting stone that first grew soft to hear us sigh, or any other catalog of impossiblities make true by the plangent puffing out of our sole breaths in the self-interrupted tossing cough of talk.... well, then we'd be a god and garden unto ourselves, and sunder thunder from its scariness with our kisses, make peace with the twisting agonies of death, know that all roads led home again, and never stir an inch, or desire aught, but that we already had it, and in quantity, in ourselves in this our place-- complete. CHIEN NU I myself am nearly told over in your telling and nearly convinced that such a power as lingers in the daylily has touched your lips and put some unused tongue of its mightiness into your very speech. I would that I could curl into your mouth and find myself reinvented in your breath. Speak again and I'll bend an ear to know if sassing nature does not silence herself to hear you. CHIEN NU[WANG WEN breaks off a willow branch, begins playing with it as CHIEN NU talks.] WANG WEN Chien Nu....hold this wily willow-wand a moment between your fingers. CHIEN NU I will. But why I should, I don't know. WANG WEN I myself will with continual grip apprehend this distant end, and between us will arise a rainbow of but one greeny hue touching us both. CHIEN NU Yes, I feel your hand, almost, within the tender writhings of the wand; it is a curious connection. WANG WEN And one in which nature is complicit, for she herself first shot forth the tie drawbridged between us by our different pressures. I would swear I have your pulse's measure in motion through the sap. CHIEN NU I too, almost, would swear the same. WANG WEN And here we are, without abridgement, our whole selves entire and with all the enterprise of our minds engaged using nature for our metaphor, our touch in transformation changing what is into what was not. How like a pair of autumn-dusted trees stand we, whose overlapping branches by continual nearness of quiet years in shared garden shade have grown together, making of two tough roots one gentle bough. CHIEN NU And that bough.... MRS CHANG [From offstage.] Chien Nu!! [The lovers are inclining toward each other, but at MRS CHANG's cry they accidentally break the willow switch.] CHIEN NU ....happy. **** Top^


[Chien Nu's room, and the open road.] CHIEN NU Since our hands have parted, bitter fingers curl open as smoke, as empty. Vanishing to the horizon, my heart sighs for our hour in the garden, past times and harnessed laughter. Vanity! He shall not come. Not today. In the spring wind, the double gate knocks against itself: stone and iron, a terrible clanging. Wound about like the ivy, my hopes and sorrows together; grievy and drenched, I slip to stillness, my hempen shoes go mossy, and I wait. [We see WANG WEN walking along the road, to his boat.] WANG WEN Sorrowful plum-leaves grieve the road red; black branches mourn at their lightness. If only my arms were weighted-down with Chien-nu! How truly sad I am only a great architect can know. Planning one thing, I accomplish another, my designs become dusty memories of unlived utopias. Expectation cancels out reality, and I cannot be where I am. And yet, I must depart. Desolate sounds scurry out of these absences around me. My feet follow the road like strangers, each following the other out of mistaken hope that one or the other knows where they are going. [We see CHIEN NU in her room, mooning for WANG WEN.] CHIEN NU My heart is entranced with its own beating, my pulse is supported by thunder. Seeking love, I have doubled my sorrows. Now I shall try a remedy. Think of small things and narrow ways, my heart. Don't look at the sky too long, as if it were another shade of his eyes. Seek corners, confer with baby spiders about their miniature hangings, white portraits in obscure places. Fold into a chair and let the armrests serve as Earth's four corners. Let your nose out-scope the horizon. Quiet, quiet. Oh, to anchor my meditation in a sparrow's house and not among the wide world of his wanderings! My heart, be still. Condense, contract your fistings--- titter and hymn with the mouse, modestly, and all will be well. And yet, and yet.... I know; I will drink this yew-berry brew [[nurse had gathered in black lace stockings [[don't use]] with knowledgeable fingers plucking only the thundercloud-colored ones at midnight,]] and sleep, and have no dreams, for this potion kills imagination. [We see WANG WEN in his boat, paddling upstream.] WANG WEN Deep abiding flies from my heart. My white feet wander where they will. The ghost of Chien-nu visits the marshlands, her heaven's breath a freshness among all these rank things, her absent eye a beknighting diamond lighting the cage of stars that falls upon this heavy dusk, and I am lonely when her spirit stirs. How can this be happening? Why this aching and betrayal of joy and justice? Has my imperial wish to succeed and be a bride's man clouded the clear lake we were to sail, fracturing its clarity with this turbid dirtiness? [In CHIEN NU's room, we see a second CHIEN NU arise beside her bed, in ghostlike solemnity, and pace in peace through the window into the quiet countryside.] **** Top^


[WANG WEN is drinking wine on the river, bitterly missing CHIEN NU. Her soul appears, they talk and embrace, they make wild love, and she dissolves as he goes to drunken sleep. He is wild with grief, but is overcome by desperate exhaustion.] WANG WEN Whatever's in immortality, that's not in this wine I declare insufficient to the causes of infinity. [Pause.] The time is gone a little by when I, a studious boy, threw down curious books to pull a blackeyed yew-berry through my hook and perditioned afternoons to pull up a trout. Night herself is losing her closeness, her darkness as I remember yesterday afternoon, which glows how strongly in my lit recollection. How simply she took her limpid tea to her tipping lips! [Pulling on his fishing-line.] My silvertongued hook pulls at the blackeyed yew-berries, dipping in triple-time to get a dripping fish. [Hoists up an active trout.] As hard to hold as a girl's attention! Chien-Nu! My muscular wriggler, how I have tried-on your whapping thighs in my whole heart's thought a million searing times already! Chien-Nu! CHIEN NU Wang Wen! How callous your hands looked as you left my side, your face open to the open window. How quickly you have leapt away! How barren my days and hours since, nothing in the garden to delight me, no walk but your steps echo after mine, empty and emptier. Now I stand, all soul, and move past riverbanks, sashaying through skirting mountains as if they were no more than magic lantern images thrown up in the theatre. Ah! If I don't make it to the riverbank by dawn-- how far will Wang Wen have floated! When will he race back to our sandlot on horseback, the wind prideful in his hair? Silent, faint, high and quick, my ghost-steps dissolve to frosted banks, walking the river's edge in tamped moonlight. A thousand mountains, a thousand streams, dash past my marauding eye, and are gone. Heart, heart, remembering the sad eyes that parted pair by pair, like gingying birds to distant nests. Sweat pearls against my aghast face, I race to his silent boat on the moorland, my hair gone a thousand ways in the air-stream. My faint feet are bruised with running. What tavern is he carousing at on the Chi Huai? Sudden horses, calm voices, night, night, indistinct commotion opens beyond these willows. My heart yatters at me-- speed, speed! Is that you beyond this solemn grove I've come to, beating on a ch'in board and dropping soaked lines for fish? Here will I crouch, and hear what the west wind brings. Insinuations of my love-- float through this torpor! Grass at the sand's edge is slick with frost, my green skirt hangs water-weighted to the ground, my steps heavy and drenched slip to stillness, my hempen shoes go mossy, and I wait. [The sound of a ch'in board being beaten is heard.] WANG WEN How like a picture is everything now to me! The bleak river at twilight, moon and moon in sky and on the river's flat: Heaven over my sad head and under my slow prow. How like an icy jar brimmed with water, a jade without flaw. On the far bank, a wild duck, green head and blue wing, whirls alone his evening colors. Dry vines tangle the darkness, old trees, ancient figures in the mid-dark, ravens accosting the dusk. Listen: the solo note of a flute, or is it a girl singing? Her tender timbre is like that of my Chien Nu. Is it you, Chien Nu? Chien Nu? Ah! how idle is my heart in this black. CHIEN NU [Singing.] Hear the lonely whippoorwill he sounds too blue to fly; if my heart can't touch poor whippoorwill, I'll be so blue I'll die. Softly, softly, whippoorwill, oh can you hear on the valley's blue and lonely rill, softly, softly, whippoorwill, my voice to yours is coming, dear, no need for sadness now. [We hear CHIEN NU singing.] WANG WEN Talking to ourselves, we hear another; introspection resolves into remembrance.... my tongue cannot tell a tale, but is caught kissing you-- the whole object and instance of its incessant wagging. CHIEN NU A thousand feelings have a thousand voices, and all of them sigh away like you on this river to me. Nearing happiness, we confront blunt dangers; sharpening our hearts for ecstasy, we bleed raw tears. Whichever way I turn, asleep or wandering wakeful your immortal countenance confronts me; I hail my nursemaid: Wang Wen! Talking to mom, I spot you laughing over her shoulder, making faces. When any feet approach me, first I hear your sandals, the sho-wood resounds with your coming and my heart knocks hollowly in time to the traffic. When I dash my face to my pillow in bitter disappointment, your face is already there, and I can smell you; Deep in my pillow you comfort the fresh onrush of my distorted tears. WANG WEN Is there some spirit left in flesh that I feel the winds' chill run thru my bones so, a march of air upon my skin, and a march of upright gooseflesh answering? [CHIEN NU comes in sight of WANG WEN.] WANG WEN Why are you here, and how have you come, dear thing, out of what darkness is this vision resolved flooding my fouled obscurities with light? I cannot see you without thinking myself too soon blessed with daylight; I who had thought it shut and dungeoned from his sensible being in the eons since our leave-taking. How, how, how, how, Chien-nu, are you here? CHIEN NU A desire asks me I seek not the reason; when a love that held me fast pulls me after, I go, were it even to damnation. WANG WEN But Chien Nu, how are you here? CHIEN NU Do not ask again, for I myself do not know. [They kiss, etc., etc.] WANG WEN Why this unspeakable clarity in the light's playfulness? Pleasure's leisure and simple lease thus rapturously released? CHIEN NU Our bodies fell into confusion when we asked for love. Felt apparitions of some drumming weather smote our bones, and now we arise skin-lashed from these matted grasses; WANG WEN Desire came, swift to enter, turbulent at egress, sessions' cessation, the met wept hands palpitant, tired, CHIEN NU worn smiles renewing laughter; WANG WEN our thrown robes unioned on the peach-branch, impatient for our bodies' return. CHIEN NU [Satiated.] Now I know my body's body, that shape wherein my imagination molds me. How does a tree hold itself up against the blue immensity? The watchword of root and branch, bole and soul is this: I dream myself a tree, and therefore come my buds pushing sugared airs away, sap and barking back hurl from seedling on to ancient limb and lightning'd hulk by the mute power of the dream's suasiveness, not otherwise. Were I to blink and think myself an agile fish nervous beneath the agate stream, a mere sixty white years, a death, a body's lapse, and I would wake re-sheathed in those glamours of new flesh, and gaze with sideswiped eyes at a world submerged; water-reeds would chasten my agitations; my slim fins would cling to air only for the dim length of a breath held, and I would die fossilized in the muds, my skeleton the dream's only remembrance of having been dreamed. Oh spirit, oh self! Give yourself the will to recall such a strength of dreaming when unconsciousness sets thee in thy sick-bed body again. Victim of this pernicious illusion never be again, nor drape your longings on so frail a hope as flesh. [CHIEN NU sighs and disappears.] WANG WEN Ah! how I am thrown, a rose into a furnace, and disappear in ashes. Eyes, curse yourselves to have gazed so longingly on love, to be revenged by its absence to this nullity of night! Hands, clump and curl, wither back to stumps of somethings, to have touched a radiance you are now denied. Oh every sense is by its saturation overthrown and burned when that fulfillment, though all unexpected first, slackens, and we roil lost in our new amplitudes of searing wants. My love's contestless softness sharpens every rearing dagger of that hurt which stabs me now. Uncoil, heavy soul! and into this shattering night disperse, as a campfire's disturbed smoke goes from greyness to nothingness beneath dull stars for your final gladness. Cheating Time has put all my tossing future in his bone sack and knotted the lot with the garrote-wire remembrance. Absence inflicts! Courage comes not to these empty hands nor recalling eloquence to these lips--- Oh nothing do I know, I know, except what from me slips; when even my shapeless shadow from my body falls, dissolute as night, how shall I rise to you, Chien-Nu, my shut light? Top^ ****


[Chien-Nu, stirring awake in her sick-bed.] CHIEN NU A miraculous moment.... NURSEMAID Here's gingsing, a spice to brighten wide recalcitrant eyes and ease them into day; and here's tea, to uncrumple a stomach fed on nothing but a fever-pallet's madnesses --Ach! what a ferocious crowd of hours you've spent in the naked solitude of sleep! CHIEN NU An exquisite minute.... NURSEMAID Three days a-bed; not even in my howling youth did I maelstrom the bedsheets so! CHIEN NU There was a storm pouring toward us from the horizon's crescent when I passed from daylight to my private dark. NURSEMAID And your hair is all a storm of tangles, lady, as if the city of your virginity had been sacked by handsome Mongols all these starry days thru. Well, there's a story I could maybe tell you: but dark eyes keep their secrets and twinkles longest, honey. Ach, enough! CHIEN NU Has the storm harmed aught in the orchard? NURSEMAID Swill to the level of the laurel-daubed inner decoration on this proffered cup, my bug. There, there! Your hair's a little less like a wild galaxy now. CHIEN NU Is it day or night out? Whenever my eyes close out the cloistering tapestries of this room, and these hanging gazelles bound beyond my being's business for one second, I see him, I see Wang Wen, stretched in ecstasy on a pallid riverbank, the near grass melted back from its frost-freshness by some plenitude of his dreaming tears. Ah! Wang Wen! This love-sickness is killing, my crushed chest an aching whirlpool among your bruise-black torrents. [MRS CHANG enters.] MRS CHANG Do not drown in such nothings, darling. I know we treasured imperial hopes of his appointment; such apportionment may be ours one day, or it may not. Sigh away your breath too long, lithesome one, and one day it shan't come back. NURSEMAID Oh, my poor possum; upside down, and unconscious with dreaming when the day is busy beneath you! CHIEN NU I cannot stand to lie unalive without him one drugged moment longer! The cures I need are stronger, ladies, than the soups and roots you proffer me. Wild lightnings in dragging air, Wang Wen! Come touch forever what cannot be possessed! Caress an indomitable thigh, and tongue a woman's heart damned to interminable daylight without you. Oh, those words, those crow-moans, without you! Where's the root of a longing purloined from the gods? I thieve ecstasies from your too-absent face, Wang Wen! MRS CHANG Appalling, this bitterness. [Aside.] Nursemaid, double her dosage. I'm scramming to get the old priest. He'll tie her spirit in a knot so she cleaves here, and to us, once again. NURSEMAID Oh, my poor possum. CHIEN NU Since our hands met in a last goodbye, all's vanity and is vain; sight, that comprehends him not, vanity, ears that hear him not, vanity, touch that touches him not, nor is touched by him in sweet return, vanity; eyes that close to a darkness absent him, vanity, eyes that open on a world unseeing of him, vanity, lips that open and kiss him not, vanity, my dumb tongue that may taste no remembrance of him, vanity, vanity, vanity, vanity. Every sense is emptiness without him, and yet Bhudda-enlightenment escapes me! Sure the bitterest cheat in life is leave-taking. The thrush knocks not against the abyss of night when her lover dove is snared in the hunter's net with one note more of longing, than I. When I speak, my breath is limp, no force follows my utterance, nor am I heard. Inside myself, I am too weak to concentrate. When I lie down, I cannot fall together enough to even sleep. Fine wine is bread paste against my palette; spiced things come to my tongue tasteless, not even their effervesce survives. Medicine's effectless; no cure emancipates me. I know well when this hidden ill began, when his face evaporated from my approaches, I dreamed, and his arms held me not, I fell to the ground, hard on a tilted hip, and he was gone. If I am to be well again, it will not be until full sight of him is restored to me; my sundered senses re-soldered, my million divisions viced to singleness and glued. One minute, I am sheer lead, nailed to the bed, the next instant, I am floating over the roof, viewing ruined landscapes that contain not him. Next, all is clear, I am myself again, my body my body--- then all is confusion again, I float unroofed, rootless, aghast in terrible airs, black winds, endless night, stretched agony, my unattached spirit searches past each infinity blisses get mixed with heart-stabs, ecstasies moil with rotten longings, diamonds flash to ashes in my uninhabited chest, I seek, and seek again, invisible, fragrant, dispersed, all Eye and no eye, and I cannot tell the Heaven from the Earth. [CHIEN NU falls asleep.] MRS CHANG Child! Wake up! CHIEN NU Sick already, what new sickness wakes me to appall? Is it my death? Come, black charger, and let the dark thunder of your monsterous hooves consume my aching soul away! I am faint, faint, a disappearing ink under thy trim nib, and am nearly cancelled from the lists of life. This flustering weakness that I feel can be nothing else than sweet Death hurrying near, kneeling to take his incisioning kiss. MRS CHANG The priest is here; he's to heal your soul. CHIEN NU And if my soul is elsewhere, on what shall he lay a hand to effect a cure? MRS CHANG I send for Wang Wen. I'll send somebody to ask him to come back. Pass or fail, I'll have him come here. Perhaps seeing him will fix you up. CHIEN NU Too late for your regret, your repentance, Mrs Chang. Death has made me his mistress, and I am charmed a little by is forthright solemnity; he's a sad child holding forth his one cherished clump of posies, how could I refuse him? MRS CHANG Survive, child! He laughed at everything, and now to see how you grieve and wither. It's, well, its sore to me. CHIEN NU I close my eyes and find happiness. I see him. Wang Wen! PRIEST Stop it, child! You are not to talk this way and aggravate your case. Until Wang Wen is returned to the precinct, you must rest and let others pray for you. CHIEN NU I see from your grave habiliments, Mr Priest, that you have endured a thousand deaths, a thousand ends, held the hands of mourners by the ditch-edge until tiredness brought oblivion to mourning; what's one more slip-up, one less human remaining still all a-stir above the dust that engulfs us? PRIEST Dominae sanctum, tortoise purposum. CHIEN NU I am touched with a burning hand; My life is in my mouth, my mouth ingests the sky. Love falls to sickness in this wicked world, like yesterday's drunk-high, asleep under the spring willow, like cattails a-whirl over the meadow-path, swallows lofting the east wind, vaulting the pavilion small as childhood beneath them. I am young and I am cast away. I can't recover myself. Who cares about one's youth when one is in possession of it, even if one is throwing it away? Perfect days go shunting blindly by; my longing blossoms darkly, sadness increases, frost on the loved bud, blight against beauty. The larks offer a most charming intensity, their lyric chunks against a wood head, my own; Nature delights herself in display, not me. Simple sounds startle my sorrowful heart. Let me die today, avenging grief by shortening its tortures. Let me die while Spring is whistling its merriment outside and my argent soul may follow awhile fleets of flying flowers. PRIEST Dominae sanctum, prolixus verbaenum, verbosus. CHIEN NU I am struck down, if I am struck down, half human, half a ghost. Oh, go away, and let me sleep. Top^ ****


WANG WEN I sit, and with concentrated brush put my flung tongues on the calligraphy paper fluttering under my flat palm here. Soon I shall pass or fail these travailing exams. My conscience is scrupulous as the wax that hold the wick, a condensing tightness of melting colors hungering themselves liquidly around a flame. What shall be the outcome of all this light and smoke? Total happiness, or misery unendurable? All holds to its purpose; my mind is firm and my hand turns to this effort alone. I shall not wander from my scholarly concentration nor discourse with any darting dreams of Chien Nu while I make this exam cubicle my ruminating room. All thoughts, marshall to mastery! Confucian mysteries sing! Knowledge hard-won and encoded, see here, chirrup when I carol you! [CHIEN NU appears.] CHIEN NU Come and burn with might and immenseness! Throw down your books, your lives, and fly! This empyrean stream invites an everlasting life, an aching socket for transcendental fire. Come, come, my one, my desire, my flame and fame, eternity echoes emptily for me without your name! WANG WEN Chien Nu! CHIEN NU Look, your hand is cramped with knowledge, your future life a tense battle of expectations, myself prime among them. Help me throw both your hand and your hurt away forever. WANG WEN Chien Nu, you must tell me, how are you here? CHIEN NU I remember the river. I came. I am all at my spirit's lifeless bidding now, and have but one hanging body's fragment of myself dying abed back home. My body's dying, immolated in a fever; it was too weak a thing to touch so strong a desire as mine for long. My insistent spirit discards its lilac casing and soon will blossom against the gasping stars alone. WANG WEN To die, to cease. You ask this of me, you invite me to my own destruction? In such a hurricaning leavetaking, love, what simple willow wand could stand assured that it would whip back to the mate that left it amid such hurried circumstance and rush of death, in such an overwhelming wind? CHIEN NU None, my love. WANG WEN None. None, none at all? CHIEN NU No, my love. Not a single assurance may slipstream from my ghost-mouth now, all drawn to you and the truth. And yet, I ask. Come to me, die to me, my love. WANG WEN My body's a tissue against wishes so strong! CHIEN NU Then flash it to a thinness of ashes and step these airs and fires your breath insists I inhabit. WANG WEN There is an adoring glory in this agony I embrace to taste you again, Chien Nu! CHIEN NU How can there be agony in a flesh dismissed to inexistence by our twinning wishes? WANG WEN Is there a human summation in this finish? CHIEN NU Never, never, never, and never! There's only us, silvertongue. WANG WEN Chien Nu.... CHIEN NU But step to this certain synergy, sweet sweet one, and all's a tasteless ecstasy tongue's absence makes. Divine the radiant choice you uplift in joy to take and all else swirls away from you into 'below.' Here, first burn your exam. There. It is easy, see how the light takes the paper? WANG WEN I see. I see. CHIEN NU So shall it be with you. A touch of immortality and all your mundaner self will wither and resolve to such a miniature sun. WANG WEN A sun. A day I shall never see. CHIEN NU A central intensity, certainly. My dear, here, give me some dark lock of your hair. [WANG WEN cuts off some of his hair, hands it to CHIEN NU.] CHIEN NU A handful of raven's feathers. It is well. There. See? It is you I burn here, and it is not you. How easily will the rest fade to this spirit's lightness. Do you see it going up and up, the drifting smoke, while the flared hair all vanishes at the line of the brightness? WANG WEN I see. I see. CHIEN NU Take this oil lamp's instructive illumination, now, and pound it open upon the coarse reed mat. WANG WEN Shall I do this? [WANG WEN takes the lamp and smashes it upon the floor. All goes up in immense flames of destruction.] WANG WEN I can barely speak into this black brightness: spoken floods of germinal loves choke black, underlit by your wordless countenance's unifying perfection. Look, the fire talks along my ink-stained robe, all whispers and insistence; its not too late to snuff them to deafness.... Oh, Chien Nu; oh I long to be with you! And yet my heart, like a double-drawn bow that has two arrows fletched and at the ready, one marked white for life, and the other black as death, I would live and die at once. I'd have both arrows knock against the rattling target. Desires spike my anxious limbs, and a rain of heavy nails, my devouring fears, frame liaisons with this flesh, entangling neurons against my spirit's unbinding willingness to die, and so live with you. Oh the strings are at my back, and I am prepared to fly all ways at once. CHIEN NU All ways move my way always. WANG WEN My heart is dense. Why do these motivating tensions of a free will tied to my body's estate harp on their unknotting as my own loose end? Must it be so? CHIEN NU Will it be so? WANG WEN Have your spirit's revelations becalmed these aching wires of unknowing that burn within my chest, pulled tight in anxious apprehension of my future state? What will happen to me? Shall we meet on the other side, to picnic upon that dread and death-rich turf as carelessly as children after school? Or shall I ravel back the whole, sweet fruit of my life to one dark, shucked skull teneting an unhosed hole? Shall I die to be free? CHIEN NU Shall you? WANG WEN I do not know I do not know I do not know! CHIEN NU Move to me; as light must beckon light, I ask. Dearest, the conflicting flames that your body throws but backlight your more incandescent soul. Sweet let the light I am indite the darkness that your kneeling body crimps to feel; one touch and all's a raiment rayed in peals of laughing light where not one shadowed echo of a shadow goes. Move to me; as cool water tempers a burning bone, let my love's assuring peace and quiescent licence touch some momentary quaver of yourself, sweetness, where no fleshly feeling, precursing ecstacies, goes. I gospel a romance that shuns infirm grace, devouring reticent roses in its holy, violet spires of spuming firelight once held in living vision's sparse intensity. You die, and that which once had moved and loved only on the lowly, sodden earth, restless for intensities, now all in one glory resides among the rafting fires of eternal shine. WANG WEN Have I done this? CHIEN NU Yes. END NOT USED: The day fall off to badness, and time starts to see its own bedraggled face in eternity. Would you have all your golden corn robbed, gnawed to a raw cob? WANG WEN Powerful over the prow of my unsteady self came this unmastering impulse MRS CHANG Well, Wang Wen is on the road. He must return with the imperial stamp on his lolling forehead, or no Chien Nu.