Almost Eden

9 Oct

Last night at sunset the thought
Of Adam and Eve
Cast out of Eden
Crossed my mind.
The sky was painted
All the colors
God keeps in His box for skies
And as I watched in wonder
I wondered if
Humanity
Lost Eden in its mind
When it lost innocence,
If Eden were still
All around us, in all
Its beauty and bounty
If only our inadequacy
Kept us from the presence
Of Paradise
Surrounding us
Every day.
A lone raven
Swept his wings across
Fading colors in the sky
On his way to somewhere
Nearby.
I turned
Eden lost
But not far
Away.

Jim Smith
October 8, 2011

Metro Trek

3 Oct

I am amazed at my timidity.
It has taken me two weeks to
Get the nerve
To do a simple thing:
Several simple things, really
But one aim.
I take a taxi to the station.
It goes well. The driver
Recognizes mispronounced
Light rail station. He hears it
Often enough.
I climb the stairs to the platform
Wait in line. I always end up
At the end. That means I stand
On the train as it glides
Across the bay to the city.
We stop at Jin Ma Road and
Another train stops, going the other way
Tired eyes, inches away, look back into mine
Disappear as we magically surge
Onward.
I see Metro and squeeze past the lady
Blocking the door.
I find my Bisquick, pancake syrup
Baking powder, a good iron
But at the station I’ve messed up my card.
I pay four yuan and ride back to Kaifaqu.
Four yuan isn’t bad—there are worse penalties
For mistakes.
The taxi driver doesn’t recognize Song Yu Li
Even though I say it twice, trying different tones.
He follows directions well, and we arrive.
“Ah, Song Yu Li!” he says.
I want to say “I said that!” but
I know I didn’t. Next time I’ll study the tones
But this first time
Alone on the light rail
With hundreds of others
Is now the past.
Next time
It will take less time
To find the nerve.
Jim Smith
Kaifaqu. 29.9.08

Xi’an VI

3 Oct

China surrounds
The Great Mosque of Xi’an.
Traditional street stalls crowd each other
For space, fill the air with scents, spices.
Vendors welcome every passer by
“Hello, come in. Something you like?”
On the narrow street
Outstretched arms will sweep
Wares from the tables on either side.
Business bustles.
A single step away
Inside the walls of the mosque
There is peace, prayer, serenity.
Commerce and the Great Silk Road
Brought Islam to China
But Islam brought belief.
That silken thread
Stronger than steel
Remains
Woven into the fabric
That is Xi’an, and thus
Into all that is China as well.
Jim Smith
Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, PRC
April 2, 2009

Xi’an V*

3 Oct

Maybe I will understand China
When I understand
How the great storehouse
Of Buddhist scripture
Came to be called
The Great Wild Goose Temple.
Incense fills the air
In the serene and beautiful gardens
Once walked by the feet of the Abbot
Xuan Zhuang.
As a monk he walked the rocky roads
To India. The trip took seventeen years,
But he gathered the sacred texts.
He brought them back
To Xi’an.
Perhaps, after the honors
Heaped on his return,
Perhaps, every autumn
As he crouched
High in the pagoda
Translating the texts
He heard the geese fly by
Perhaps he longed for the road again
Longed to be but a simple monk
Headed south again on a great quest
With the wind from the north
Billowing his robes
Like wings.

Jim Smith
Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, PRC
April 2, 2009

*According to our guide the real story is that the Tang emperor
found out that there was a storehouse of the texts in India called
The Goose Tower. The emperor decided his tower was bigger.
It was the Great Wild Goose Tower. I like my vision better. JSS

Xi’an IV

3 Oct

The secret of China’s past
Perhaps of her future
May lie in something so simple
As sticky rice.
Long ago, before cement
The space between brick walls was filled
With sand, lime, and
Sticky rice.
Six hundred years later
The wall is strong.
It still stands surrounding Xi’an.
A grain of rice is nothing
By itself.
United with other grains
It is food, paper, a cement
To hold walls, or people
Together.
Today we rented bikes
Rode high above the city
Atop that wall.
Beneath us, by the moat
Old people sat in the Sun
Beside the wall
Singing for each other.
Each an individual
Like a grain of rice.
Jim Smith
Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, PRC
April 2, 2009

Xi’an III

3 Oct

At the Shaanxi Museum
I eventually overload.
The museum stroll—stop and go
Lots of walking, little progress—
Is harder for me
Than a hike in the hills.
At the Shaanxi Museum
Bronze spearheads and bells
Clay and bones
Clash in my head
With the clamor of battle
The chanting of priests
The earthquake rumble of
Ten thousand crops
Pushing aside the earth
Rising to the sun
In ten thousand spring times.
In the echoing entrance hall
Close by the coffee shop
Indistinct voices order cappuccino
Americano, compare blisters and
Baby pictures.
A friend joins me to rest her feet.
The guards on the stairs are bored.
It is almost a crime to sit, writing poetry
While the ages wait
Under glass
In the Shaanxi Museum of History.
Jim Smith
Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, PRC
April 2, 2009

Xi’an II

3 Oct

The naked lady at the emperor’s bath
Is pure white and more than
Three meters tall.
Tourists pose beside her
While their friends snap pictures.
With her serene face and calm poise
We could be children by our mother’s knee.
Golden trees rise beside the pagodas
Where vendors hawk clay miniatures—
No naked ladies
Only horses, soldiers
Safe inside their papers and cloth
Boxes.
Qin Ling Mountains rise abruptly
Behind the lady.
Temples decorate their sides.
The emperor’s baths, with all their buildings
Pose at their feet
Like so many children
Too small for their mother’s
Knee.
Jim Smith
Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, PRC
April 1, 2009