Shang Ti

January 14, 2009

In the octagonal attic room at Uncle George and Aunt Bear’s house, the dragon of Shang Ti lived. Never did I visit without going to this room.

It was what I always considered a life size model of a dragon. Built of wood and bamboo, it rested on a wire frame with neatly articulated legs, face and claws. Horns and plumes streamed behind it. The body was covered with scales, each a small blank shield the width of the two first joints of my index finger and the length of my nine-year-old thumb. Each waiting to be filled with the mark of time.

Uncle George and Aunt Bear had begun the game before I was born. In it they explored the history of China, back to the time of the Yellow Emperor and beyond. Through the lives of the people and their dealings with the dragons of the earth. After each juncture, a scale would be painted for the people, spirits, the love or devastation visited. The scales near the dragon’s head had characters in grass letters grading forward in time to the slogans of the Great Leap Forward and on. I would skip along these stepping stones of history with my fingers, asking Aunt Bear what this character meant, asking Uncle George to remind me what had happened here where this golden eye gazed.

I joined the story during the Tang Dynasty. We told the tale of Li Bai and Du Fu dueling the Emperor’s youngest daughter over a poem about a cooking pot. I fell in love with a river dragon’s daughter who helped us found a postal service during the Song. I left home when the Cultural Revolution had just begun. They were a part of my life. When I later forced my way through the press to see Along the River, the transposition of time and space gave me chills. I felt rather than remembered the touch of the rough bark on the broom in my hands, the tombs cold beneath me. Reflexively I reached down again for the missing hand of my aqueous love.

My hands, empty.

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One Response to “Shang Ti”


  1. […] ongoing work brought to mind the dragon sculpture at Uncle George and Aunt Ursula’s house. I wonder whatever happened to […]

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