An Asian Slice
William Stapleton

 At the dark end of an alley on a moonless night,
A youth squats low to the ground, turned toward the wall with his face in his lap.
Someone might think he’s sleeping.
He’s chasing the dragon.  Soon he’ll fall over and soil himself, and stay right there until dawn.

Back at the neon-lit mouth of this dark beast, hookers walk back and forth, hurrying to get past the alley, either for fear or because it smells so bad.
Eyelids, all painted golden, Asian whores always look like they’re made of candy. Candy it is; but a snarling cat awaits its prey.


Everything is real, but nothing matters, anyway.
Where life is only what must be, from the cradle to the grave.
Everyone does what they can:  Nothing less, but sure no more.
Tip the hat and give a nod to the ones who’ve gone before.

This morning the sound of traffic in the street,
scooters and tuk-tuks, taxis and trucks, was so loud I couldn’t hear my dream. 
So I turned it off and went dowstairs.
Taking in diesel fumes ‘til it hurt to breathe, I found a hawker-stall and ate.
It’s 100 degrees already; soon the rain will come.

Four-hour-long bus ride deposits me in another world.
A farmer coaxes his buffalo along, turning up a thousand years of rice paddy.
He doesn’t know anything else:
Just this ground; this sky.  The seasons tell him what to do each day.
In a bamboo village; lifetime dreams end at the tree line.

            Life goes rolling on and on, like the river’s rushing flow.
            Lucky ones stand on the banks and watch the current go.
            Ancients where it all began, saw the river as their friend.
             No one thinks of that these days.  We’re all looking for the end.

Afternoon rain forces us into the coolness of the little house,
where Grandmother assembles strings of Christmas lights; bound for somewhere.
Young mother watches three children grow,
and wonders:  What will their lives be?
Can’t dream of what she’s never seen; can’t see what she can’t dream.

Back out on the open plain, our bus hurtles toward the city.
Smokestacks and temples rise up from the earth; two visions competing for the sky.
The woman on my right holds a chicken in her lap;
rural wealth for a city friend?
On my left a priest sits in quiet repose and presides over the world.

            Broken lines and shadows; innuendos of a dream
            Latent soulish power causes eddies in the stream.
            Here in this forgotten place, where the light has never shone
            we tip the hat and bow with grace to the ones left on their own.

Nearer to the city now, the bus thumps and bumps to a slower pace.
Grinding gears mark spaces between dirty children, playing obliviously in the road.
Neither village nor metropolis, outskirts have no identity:
Just a blurry line of encroachment;
a temporary half-life on the way to something more.

Dust springs up from the tires of trucks headed both ways on the road.
A little girl stands crying in a mud puddle; her brothers laughing from the sidelines.
She has to learn rejection to participate in this brutal, belonging dance.
A little life, and a little death to produce a product truly worthy of its name:
A good woman is hard to find.

            The damaged and the broken ones; all rooted in the past,
            live life the way it always was, from their first day to their last.
            Motes of dust in beams of light, through the darkness of this day,
            we tip the hat and give a nod, for the truth we can’t convey.

            Everything is real, but nothing matters, anyway.
            Where life is only what must be, from the cradle to the grave.
            Everyone does what they can:  Nothing less, but sure no more.
            Tip the hat and give a nod to the ones who’ve gone before.
            We tip our hats and walk away from the world we’ve all ignored.

Note:  Traveling in Asia, on my way from one teaching date to the next, it struck me how little we actually do.  Not that we can somehow improve people’s lives with a bit of money and some cool advice, but we hold the keys to life, and that more abundant, here in our hands.  Cloaked up as it is in religious garb, though, nobody hears.  We’ve received a truth, the most powerful one ever known.  But it’s hidden inside an embarrassment, the caraciture of what was really intended.  Why can’t we just get past the subterfuge, shuck off all the layers of religious prescription, and let His brilliance shine.

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An Asian Slice by William Stapleton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.