God was on the beach in dark glasses, disguised as Claude Rains to keep the groupies away. Inspired by the voluptuous, ballooning depths of his world war battle shorts, God -- or Claude, as he like to be called -- was torturing Chiang in small, concentric circles of discourse that licked and lapped at Chiang's ears and ankles as he lay in a deck chair with the last of the mescal in a tall frosted tumbler between his legs. God was purposefully confusing Chiang, proposing in elaborate, nearly-Masonic terms a new literature of disengagement (as opposed to revolt and success), of which Chiang would be the new North American prophet. You can do anything you want, said God. He twisted the badminton net to watch the small squares disappear into his fist. How zen of me, thought the almighty.
In Beijing, as an ambitious adolescent in love with middle-aged women on the Central Committee, young mothers would move away from Chiang on the street because of his renowned godlessness. Even now, Chiang watched God with the heartlessness of a girl: The sun-baked, ex-athlete's body of fried old flesh and embalmed, greased hair; the non-existent navel somewhere beneath the waist of the shorts; the flat, old man's ass; the ridiculous old athletic nipples, notoriously indigenous to sun-worshipping retirees from the East. And God wore symbolic gold rings and necklaces to entice the local girls into conversation.
The sea, meanwhile, was tilting to Chiang's left, with sea-lions and green turtles twisting out onto the beach. The sun was somewhere inside Chiang's own cranium, turning the actual concrete pool inside-out. Mick Jagger was coming out of a Latin car in the back alley: What can a poor boy do? The guitar strings were rattling. Scores of screeching LAX jumbo pencil-ships were scratching across the sky in even, incoming cadres, bringing more bundled Chinamen to rest in full tribal dress beside Wilshire pools with their Topanga girlfriends. All Chiang wanted was to drill up like a gang bullet into the blue of the morning sky, up from the green earth, up from the brown earth, up from anywhere and slide into the white vapor trails and wrap and twirl them into his arms, slowly, and form the character Pi with the billowy strings, bombarding the greater metropolitan area with the oldest word for Grace known to civilization. But there was a sea! God was saying something about fifteen-year-old girls and certain attainable aspects of glory while Chiang, miles away, back at the condominium, dropped the mescal down and rolled over to let the blood rush back down into his forearm and fingers. He pulled the silk sheets tight over him, let the chlorine run through his lungs, and God was gone when he fell back asleep.
Chiang was a baby an instant later, bouncing on a bed with the big beautiful head of a North American prophet. Innocence was a green sea he swallowed whole.
New Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction
Put Chiang in improbable situations involving insects, women and small animals. Produce an impoverished text that relies on the reader for completion. Write in the manner of Zola's second American translator. That poverty. Leave the libraries when the headaches begin. Stay away from American poets (Throw lit cigarettes at them at readings.). Swim more than you write. Make God the deep end of the pool. Think occasionally of R. selling guns in Harar, or B. attempting to leave the College de France in 1980. Move toward God whenever possible. Make this list as wrong and incomplete as possible, so that the reader (reading against the text, as readers do) inevitably produces a superior revision. Generally, lighten-up.
The Essential Pu-Yi Variation
Chiang is twenty-six and unconscious by the pool again. It is 6:40 in the morning in the city of Los Angeles, which Chiang, at parties, refers to as ``The city of Ozness, Improbability and the Living, Driving Dead.'' He is wearing his favorite dark glasses -- two small, silver-black mirrors over his eyelids. ``I bought them at Venice Beach,'' he says. And he did.
The CD player on the patio has been programmed to play Janis Joplin's ``Get It While You Can'' over and over, loudly. Chiang is wrapped in multicolored silk sheets.
Pink clouds passing rapidly overhead can be seen in his glasses. He is still motionless. And Janis? Well, Janis is wailing. Someone will have called the police by now.
Chiang's Only Letter to the TLS
Sir, -- I should like to draw your attention to two errors in D. Moore's review of Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (August 22 - 28). The Zyryan dialect is not spoken in the Caucasus but several hundred miles north-east of Moscow. Abakan is not spoken in the Kola Peninsula but in eastern Kazakhstan on the Sino-Soviet frontier.
Chiang Kuang-Tzu 11306 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, California, U.S.A.
Chiang and H., An American Flautist
Chiang meets this woman in the Paul Revere House during a thunderstorm. The house is crowded with dry Bostonians pretending to be two-hundred-year-old tourists. As the guide for the tour, H. is disguised as a revolutionary American woman, and speaks too softly for the entire group to hear her detailed descriptions, which impresses Chiang greatly. Chiang watches her pale, eternal arms and legs and the shape her lips make around certain words. To save her from the dirtiness of the task, Chiang floats to the ceiling like a dragon-kite and brandishes his Korean revolver, taking the house hostage and forcing the tourists to flee for their lives, which in turn impresses H. greatly. Over dinner she describes a fall from a horse in the western mountains in great detail. In exchange, Chiang pulls a map of his own mountainous western province from his topcoat and points to a small black circle next to a brown mountain. He describes his home.
Together they attend the recital of an Irish Priest-Flautist. (``This, tonight, is for the prisoners of conscience in the world,'' says the beard, who then plays a brief jig.) ``I play, too,'' says H., and Chiang watches the white-silver flash of the flute across the space of the concert hall. ``Do you?'' (In bed he makes her laugh: ``This, tonight, is for the prisoners of conscience in the world,'' says Chiang.) At his hotel, they exchange gifts in the manner of Christ-seeking kings: From H., a group of paper animals and insects. From Chiang, a thick, Canadian black coin from the year of the revolution, with Saint Stephen on one side, dismembering a derivative English dragon with his lance.
In the taxi, H. plays a game and asks Chiang to tell her one true thing and one lie. Chiang is distracted and overwhelmed by the vastness of the opportunity. ``I went to Paris last year and photographed Blanchot.'' (Two lies in his pocket for the journey.) An hour earlier, back on Fiske Road, Chiang left a scrawled Mandarin tone-poem in her desk, which he translated simply: I will come back to you as many times as you will accept me.
At the terminal, with his own eyes, Chiang makes dragons and tigers fall like flowers into the briny sea of the bay in retribution for certain enduring aspects of the universe that continue to this day to dismay.
Chiang Staring the Mexicans Down
Before he hears their children come home from school, he hears their parents' radios from the alley behind his condominium. He attributes the bulk of his problems to zoning. At intervals through the day he goes to a back window and stares down a man who sits across the alley on a balcony, listening to Spanish cassette tapes. Sometimes Chiang maintains the stare for the space of an entire commercial break, then turns away and returns to the television.
Faith, or the Falling Basket Doctrine
Chiang, who is neither religious nor technically inclined, envisions the concept of Faith in the following proposition: The passenger basket of a large touring balloon is allowed to fall from a height that would ordinarily prove murderous to any human or animal occupant. This could be eight miles above the Mojave Desert or eight hundred feet above the Luxembourg Gardens. All that matters is the prospect of termination.
Chiang insists -- and has since childhood -- that at the last instant before impact, the passenger (any one of us) can leap from the floor of the basket, thereby creating a new miniature leap with new dimensions of survivable gravity ratios. The odds, Chiang admits, are against survival, but if everything is executive correctly, then the individual (finally a Kierkegaardian Knight) will tap down amidst the exploding, shattering shards of the basket.
Basic Da Vinci and Newtonian illustrations have been used to explain the reality of the situation in terms of weight, velocity and the fallibility of human flesh, but Chiang persists.
Chiang has concurred with the medieval fathers regarding the soullessness of animals in that all the neighborhood dogs have resisted an understanding of the small leap during training exercises conducted from the roof of his condominium.
Chiang hires a Mexican boy from across the alley to take the carcasses away. These are poodles, chiefly.
Chiang's Questions to a New Friend About Djangology
Is he alive? Is he Cuban? Just the banjo?
Looking for Bob
Twice a month, Chiang takes 101 to Route 27 through the Santa Monica Mountains to Malibu in search of Bob's house. Chiang stops only at the miniature Krishna temple on 27 before moving down to the coast below the Pepperdine cross, where he drives slowly back and forth along Route One, looking for Bob's house. Chiang has seen photographs of the house, and knows that Bob keeps farm animals on the property behind the wire fences. Chiang looks for miniature Shetland ponies, especially. This last detail came to Chiang in a dream on 22 August 1981.
Christmas Day 1983, Majorca
Chiang, unaware of the famous death a mile away, was laughing with a laughing woman on the Promenade in Palma, posing for a tour-group photograph in front of the yellow brandy ad that covers the side of the Tuent Hotel. Chiang the Opportunist was giggling, covering her freckled waist with his wide-open giggling hand when five thin adolescents came around the corner with a black-letter banner that read MO MO. There was a dark, striking girl among them. A movement? This was the year of the West German Greens, the Bhagwan Oranges, and the multifarious Krishnamurti tee-shirts. (Remember the ritual the Regensberg girl used just to put Gabriel German versions on the turntable? Incredible.) Santana and Dylan would tour together that next summer: Interpreters for the deaf stood at the side of the stage, signing ''Black Magic Woman'' and ''Time Passes Slowly''with unusual fervor, and Chiang burned his thumb holding his lighter up to please his sorrowful date. On the wider street, the group stretched to their intended length and Chiang smiled at the folded-canvas confusion: MIRO MUERTO.
Oh. Chiang watched the faces: The boys in the pack wanted nothing but the long-haired girl, who seemed truly to be mourning something (Ah, girls.). Fair enough: Miro was gone, Graves was thinning, and even the underrated Baron of Ravensdale was fuming somewhere on the island about increasingly impertinent reviews in The Times. There was no telling, exactly, just how many dying white intellectuals were hiding up in the woods with their striped deck chairs and thin wives. There should be a census.
As she passed near Chiang, the girl turned toward him and cooed Hola silently.
We've just murdered thousands of poets, you and I, thought Chiang. Christ, he said, Jetzt kommt die flut, and he tumbled like a horse down the Promenade after the mourners.
The Major-General On Chiang's Marriage Prospects
``Chiang fails to realize that the worthwhile qualities in one's own province are not necessarily those that are valuable in exile. Pressures exist here that have never existed for our people. (I have a friend, a dentist, who flew home and joined the revolutionary guard because he couldn't pass the state dental board!) At our clubs and wedding receptions, women notice him! (His eyes are grey-green -- rare for us.) I arrange his preliminary meetings, all with fine widows, and while I praise their native cities -- as any matchmaker does -- he puts his hand down the back of his shirt and picks at his back! Or he asks them about American records! If he does happen to please them (The unbalanced ones seem to like him.) he ruins everything by sending obsessive short notes every day to their homes, declaring his physical desires earlier than even modern decency allows.
``He has become an antiquate, erratic boy. Useless. And I blame Los Angeles completely.''
Chiang's Three Central Houses (Conditions of Exile)
The House of the Abysmal
Be someone else. Cleave to bastards as a test.
The House of Keeping Still
Be someone else. Work at night. Learn the endurance of thieves and large animals. Be as silent and narrow as the gate requires. Ignore scripture.
The House of the Clinging
Be someone else. Consider the unique satisfaction of jesters through history. Then walk up to her and say hello.
Chiang and Children
In Lanark Park, across from the fajita vendor vans for the unemployed, Chiang sits on a red bench beside the playground and watches the iron-ribbed rocket ship filled with children. A large, discolored girl walks up to him and mumbles something. She inserts several of her fingers into her own mouth. ``What?'' asks Chiang. ``We'll be right back after these messages.'' ``Oh,'' says Chiang. And he takes a breath while he surveys the area. ``Is your mother at home?'' This encounter eventually helped Chiang come to terms with Los Angeles.
The Zulu Box Room
This is in the basement, in the dark. Chiang has painted Keep Out on the door with orange paint. He takes selected friends down to see the collection, which has never been catalogued or photographed. The Zulu Boxes are uniform in size and are stacked haphazardly around the room, on the floor. They are labelled ``Zulu Box #4,'' ``Zulu Box #33,'' and so on. Three neon hospital x-ray screens line one wall, and small negatives of nude black women cover their surface. Stacks of old, curling foolscap and bottles of red Pelikan ink rest on one row of shelves. Guiding an individual tour, Chiang points to a small woman, whose breasts fill the lower half of the negative. ``I call her Josephine.''
Chiang's father bought the original trunk at auction, and Chiang claimed it for his own because of the mysterious depths: Long strips of negatives filled it, all of tribal women from the belly up, along with a few Dutch documents and one negative of one archetypal white explorer with an Adolphish mustache and a Livingstone helmet. Chiang tried to decode the explorer's blind glance at the camera so that his secret passion would be made manifest to Chiang, who was then the Jungle Boy-King of the Impassioned. Chiang failed, and promised to recreate the explorer's efforts by forming his own Zulu Box system, filled to the brim with mystery, secret knowledge, and relics of love and death. Everything women give him goes here. Everything made of blue glass goes here, as do all the daffodil bulbs he can find. All of Chiang's imperfect efforts at short, moral fiction are wrapped in plastic and sprayed with preservative to survive the day when California becomes an island. Even Chiang himself has forgotten the contents of several sealed boxes.
When asked by a tourist about the foolscap and ink, Chiang becomes as serious as a mid-career captain and says ``I am always in a state of readiness,'' and adds an Izibongo quote to gain the listener's admiration: ``Ngaphos' ukudliwa nazimamba.'' In Zulu this means I was almost eaten up by the mambas, but Chiang keeps this to himself, for this is the land of the inarticulate art of survival.
Chiang, on Barbiturates
Chiang and the Polar Bears
Chiang comes here alone in the afternoons to the Museum of Natural History to visit the arctic and antarctic exhibits. He sits in the long cherry pews and stares into the imaginary blue distance at the back of the life-sized dioramas of peaceful dead bears and impossible birds: Their black, blind, globular eyes; one penguin frozen until salvation beneath the blue-green glue.
Chiang worries the museum secretaries. They allow their reading glasses to flutter soundlessly against their breasts as they devour poor Chiang with their small mouths of jagged, triangular teeth. To calm them and keep the guards away, Chiang leaves the building once an hour and walks around the big city fountain out front. He watches the smog lay down like green shirts in a laundry.
In his mind continually is the blue peace of the arctic sky behind the painted islands. And the fantastic clouds.
And he does keep perfectly still.
Chiang By The Pool, Speaking Into a Tape Recorder
``Note: The Mayans moved entire cities every 52 years for a new view of certain constellations.''
``Page eleven: I am the boy that can enjoy invisibility.''
``Offer Brandeis eighty dollars for the eleventh edition.''
``Wopbopaloobopalopbamboo'' (Pause) ``Or boom.''
In The Valley of the New Century Propellers (The Heart of the Obscene)
This was Easter Sunday 1986 on the morning road back to San Francisco from Tahoe: Chiang drove a thin white automobile at high speeds down the green hills, enveloped in the silence and northern mist that made him quiet, holy, and quicker than anything else alive in the time zone. Windows up tightly. Orchestration out loudly. Brahms' First Something in C. Movement as revelation: This can be determined in the chest.
What was it she said under him? ``Make me, Chinaman.'' Then she smiled and Chiang Kuang-Tzu was flung like a pirate from the side of a precarious ship into the depths of the green sea he kissed continuously as a child. The sea, at least, could pronounce his name.
The sun appeared and the road twisted into a valley of great invention. Thin, tall, shining shrines: Propellers on fire with movement and wind along the horizon. The planet was adventurous: Jungles existed.
Napoleonic Frenchmen were fingering cuneiform for answers. Cameras had been abandoned. Meaning preceded text. Gesture anticipated intent. At last.
He ran from her in that difficult room, reached the street, and burrowed for breath out of the black, drunken mountains like an animal in love with air. He was aware of something flying -- either himself or the Earth. His beautiful engine! The asphalt was delicious and wet, and the valley quivered, full of silver machines. Yes, flying. Utterly.
Chiang imagined the foreigner's face again. He had confused flying with falling: Chiang went down and still down into the green valley while the propellers calmly chopped the air to pieces. This is the wind's fault -- and Chiang thought of the ugliness of the masterful woman in the room. The world is inside-out, he thought: Our lovers no longer know our names; poets require electricity. Chiang composed a slow chorus: We Are Lost.
Chiang to himself on the road: Europa is a carcass of meaning and intent; America is a righteous, televised nightmare. A wasted blessedness. The manic, secret East is going to win slowly with bright lashes across our backs and bombs that whisper in like arrows. Snap and then Crackle. Ultimately the Pop. The dark horse is born to surprise, after all: A gift to the heart of an obscene century. Viva!
Chiang was a pendulum suspended from the sun by one slim wire: Ever the darkest of horses, he had changed the tape and was weeping to Tallis (As one reasonably does in automobiles.). The landscape was something rapid and green in the corner of his eye. He put his thumb between his teeth and bit lovingly down.
Truly there is too much in our hands.
Saviors, meanwhile, were lining up like Red Indians along the edge of the hills among the propellers, brandishing their spears and leather shields like epic extras. Chiang smiled at the veritable dead rising on Sunday morning and thought of the obliterated girl in the hotel room: The rosy forehead; the unaccountable sound; the precious, instant antiquity of the pale flesh.
Chiang rolled the window down and let his head drift out the window into the wind. He watched his eyes carefully in the mirror and pushed Dona Nobis Pacem out of his lips until the blue stayed blue and the green stayed green, and the long white clouds encircled the Earth.
And this approximation of peace was enough.