Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being—like a worm.

High up on the ridge trouble is brewing, trouble qua cowboys. The ridge alive with crickets and jasper leaves. To get to it you must first walk through the Gate of the Dragon, and no one does that, so the cowboys rustle up jasper leaves making tea through their socks. Here the climate is distinctly unmoved, keeping its live animals alive a little longer. The Mount Soung is divided into two mountains, i.e. the Taishi and the Shaoshi.

The first day you begin your journey, do not forget to pack a lunch. This is always chapter one. Next, omit all red signs from your periphery—they merely tempt you to the baked goods. If the sordidness of color had anything to do with it, I would excise my ovaries; it is only a warning—the cowboys are coming, the cowboys.

The pavement melts at noon, or is it simply your shoes, beckoning you to the La Brea Tar Pits for “one more glimpse into the vast black bus stop?” Make sure to get off the beaten path—it’s had enough, and anyway, the alleys are filled with a uniquely specialized cultural flower—we call it mums. If the tank were not so crowded you could pet the fish, they’re put here for a reason, portioned and disposed, as anyone with a fat lip could tell you. When water and fire are integrated in perfect harmony, voilà, soufflé.

We are sharing a special ritual called inception, life in this world but a dream. Outside this maze of streets and basement factories is another place, and it too has its reasons. The ridge more distant than it seems, but not the threat, so watch your wallet. Isn’t it something, flags shaped like kites on every streetlight and soon, a feast of pure white tofu while someone in the road conducts a funeral. They know how to die in this part of the city, with marching bands and bright pink flowers. They die like giant cakes.

Presently, cowboys survey the distance from the ridge to the flat plain on the other side of the train tracks. They eat harmonicas for breakfast and their wrath is durable. Within the Gate of the Dragon the tea-scent obscures our smell, while silver bells tinkle from a balcony. The wind picks things up, litter for instance, and your feeling will not be forgotten by the bamboo salesman whose brother you recall.

In the East, they call this place “the west,” where mythology goes to die or remake itself on glamorous new runways. In a small hideaway dug into a hill, the cowboys congregate. They have found a shadow image on the wall, a man meditating in full repose. It irritates their bowels like Buddha in a metabolic state known as lactose intolerant. The red silk lanterns bob and shudder, but boy those noodles hit the spot.

Near the intersection of Stockton and Polk, old men run the playground. All old people dress alike; it’s called convention, “a carpet of fallen flowers.” They are made of copper coins and fish scales and the fantastic goddess of the moon showers them with ancient cheese. Pai Gow and Fan Tan begin the day, tourists too busy with their t-shirts to see what’s going on. Trouble collects like a coiled snake hissing through the alleyways. Doctors diagnose weak kidneys and tired tongues; it will take a big dark emptiness to cure this disease.

Or perhaps you’d rather disappear in the exotic river known as Wong Fay Hung. There are many serpents you can eat, but I wouldn’t try the entrails. Rather, walk the mountain of a thousand stairs to the No. 1 Temple on Earth. You play things like a game but racketeers are everything. In this block alone, two old men have kicked the chins out of youth. Things are different here, rounder, language opening its legs pictorially when and if you pay attention.

For restful thoughts, one does not need space.   One needs dried green leaves that smell of exotic forests, hot water in a cup. One needs to think about one’s relation to the “bigger vehicle” and raise one’s leg slowly with the intent of a crane, kicking only at the last minute if absolutely necessary. They’ve been doing this forever, sticking needles in their necks to soothe the liver. You have to understand the rhythm of the construct, that what appears as laundry hanging from every railing is in fact a message. We are inside the thing, so useless. Old women on the corner speculate their fans.


«±  ±»

marci nelligan  is from Troy, NY; and has lived for a long time in the Bay Area. She has an MFA from Mills College and she won a Writers on Site grant from Poets & Writers in 1999. Her work has been published in Chain, syllogism, Free Lunch, the Walrus, and she has a review of Jennifer Moxley's "Often Capital" forthcoming in VerseMagazine.