Audience of One

old chinese and water

There is an affinity between old Chinese
and water. Early morning and afternoons,
I watch them at the small park lake,
next to the memorial of one of their great men,
staunchly exercising and walking grandchildren,
taking tiny steps, many, traditionally
still dressed in methodical beige
or minutely flowered print shirts
with Mandarin collars and frog fasteners.

The garden pond drains light from the sky
like milky jade in the light rain. It churns
with koi and carp where the children toss
food out which brings them to the surface—
so many that the lustrous gold and orange-
pied white swims only through itself,
above the water, each upon the others' backs.

In the middle of the pond is an island,
railed-about and roofed with turned-up eaves
like a Buddhist temple. As the rain starts
to sheet across the water, the visitors hurry,
taking refuge there because the circumference
offers little shelter—but for umbrellas
and the trees, and the doors to the memorial
of the great man have long since closed.

We are all amazed to see a night heron
drop from a high green bough to shallows
nearby. The children understand and pitch
food gradually closer, which brings the koi
milling towards her. She shifts from leg to leg,
tipping her dark head, beak open, from side to side,
negotiating the distance with each black opal eye
in turn. At last, her neck jags forward
and recoils: complacent, she wades over to cover
to worry and dine on her small, gold catch.
Everyone is fascinated—but the old
with a different fascination than the young,
seeing something, perhaps, also in the water's reflection.

(They are the last who still remember
it has been so many years ago now—
their great man lead them across the sea
to await a glorious return. Something
in their old, alien eyes makes me feel
they know they are never going back.)

Kevin Cornwall © All rights reserved.

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