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Goddess and the City

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“I grasp my zither and name a tune;
I play "The Song of the Ruined City."
The song goes:
Border winds are fierce,
Above the wall it is cold.
Wells and paths have vanished,
Hillocks and mounds are destroyed.
A thousand, ten thousand ages,
Everyone is gone -- what can one say?”
Bao Mingyuan

"If Heaven had feelings, Heaven too would grow old."
Master Li

The goddess is beautiful. Except. Except. Except. There is no except in sunset. The sun sets.

She looks at her collection of daubed carmine in loam. She has always inspired soaring designs.

The tall tower bends over the city like a stack of as yet unopened takeout. It is intended to look like a stalk of bamboo. It had once been the tallest tower in the world. That honor has gone west into the desert. Past the fat forests of bamboo with green leaves. Past the forest that hid the statues of the dead. Or black and white bears. Very cute. Perhaps amusement parks for mega men. Three shows a day and one with fireworks with smiling faces. Or tenements mold streaked. Laundry hung. Hibachi at the ready for the weekend feast. Methane pumped out of garbage dumps next to those tenements. Reuse. Recycle. The red dragon kite flickers in the fog over the parade of floats. It is lost.

Neon ads flirt along the glass sides of the glass bamboo tower. Tissues of fog. The freeway below pulses red and white with traffic. Firecracker bombs grenade the city around it with joy.

They say that she should have been found in the tea plantations under the glass and green gondolas. They are fond of saying. The students. They say she should be found in the white temple of a thousand steps. Red roof curves to the visitors gong. Ringing in joy. That she could be found in the choice of the fountain. Each pilgrim to chose two of three. Wisdom. Wealth. Long Life. To attempt all three is to be greedy. She is no observer of false shortages. She has no knowledge of them. They say she should be found in the road of temples and tea houses. Barley green the tea. Nibble a walnut cake that looks like a tree stump.

The word “should” did not apply to her.

She is not applied.

She rides the wide round Ferris wheel over the mall. She coils her shining dragon’s tail and contemplates her growing shoe collection that she keeps in art boxes of carved teak. To open and close. To display at angles and in relationship. In the shoe store, she smiles at the girl in the cotton kimono with the lime green Mohawk. Each strand of hair carefully stiff and standing as to be a sail. They eat Durian on a street corner together and speak of chaos and physics and the inevitability of decay. She gives the girl her card and a tube of lipstick in the same shade as the girl’s hair.

It is not that it is a very good mall. The mall with the Ferris wheel. A few stores. Pretty good dim sum. An outlet store. She buys a flat screen TV there. Not because she needs one. She has a wall of them in her apartment of marble and rooms. The room of the burbling fountain where the gold fish swim. They tickle her tail. She does not live there.

She lives in the electronic district. Neon in her eyes. The latest. The greatest. The wisdom that she has to give. It is old the moment she says it. Old to them. Cracks in their ears and grows kudzu on the walls. What cares she for a mountain range of marble. She has thumb drives in her claws. She waves them over the entry to the metro and smiles her tiger’s teeth smile as at it lets her in. She is beautiful. She accepts no “except for” to her beauty. She is.

She goes to the street of the hot springs. She is there to meet a would-be-emperor in a private room of jade screens. The jade is glass. Fiber optic. It streams with the knowledge of the sunset. Zero. But there are Ones too. There is a tub of blue sulfur water. There is a tub of cold spring water. She wears a track suit of red silk. Her long hair is held up by a pen. The pen could record every word she wrote in memory. She never looks back at the words that she has written.

She offers the would-be-emperor a basket of peaches from her garden. They only ripen every three thousand years. For which she has one word. Vacuum packed. Technically two words. She rips the packages open with her claws.

She bites into a peach. The soft sweet skin parts under her lips. Heavy the syrup. Delicate. She licks a golden bead. She holds out the peach to the would-be-emperor. Delicate bruise in her hand. He takes it slowly.

She’s been here before. She’s stood at the gate. Pruned the orchard with her ladies. She’s offered the fruit. Taken lovers. Painted ages of consummate splendor along the line of her eyebrow. Laid out the treasures of salt from the sea. Opened the way to the copper hills. Now she mines silicon. Face to the sunset, she wonders why the signal has died on her watch computer. She taps it. Turns it off. Turns it on. Flips off the top and smiles.

Her would-be-emperor leaves. He does not eat the peach. He does not eat the pear. He does not even eat the green tea and sweet potato ice cream. Which is a shame. It is her favorite. For now.

She goes to the mall and the boy behind the counter gave her the world again. He fixes the computer in her watch with a slender tool made of aluminum. She gives him money. She gives him a scrap of paper with a few smiling children on the top. If he opens it, he will find a series of numbers and a red mark in the shape of seven dragons. He puts his laundry list on the back. She lives for that sort of thing and smiles her tiger’s teeth smile. His girl friend turns it over and sees the mark. Traces it with a finger and has a thought.

She lives for that sort of thing too.

She rides the great wheel over the mall. The circle goes up. The circle goes down. She holds up her arms to the setting sun. She breathes in the perfume of a city. Car fumes. Factories. She coils her shining dragon’s tail and curves her lips to the sunset. It is beautiful. It always is.