by Gina Marie
From the moment I first saw him, I knew Billy Chen-Wing would break my heart, but I chased him anyway.
We've been together 50 years. Can you imagine -- 50 years with a broken heart? No, not 50 years ago -- time moved forward 50 years from this very moment. It is you, reader, who is now as ancient as the two of us. What a journey, wouldn't you agree? And now here we are, my thin old neck bobbing next to his, my eyes slow and milky -- his eyes black and darting and laughing into the big tomorrow just as they did last week. I turn to him and say, in my warbly old voice, give him a little punch in the ribs, "We've been together fifty years. Can you imagine -- fifty years with a broken heart?" Billy Chen-Wing tips his head of stiff grey hair back and laughs and laughs. He convulses with laughter and pinches me on the ass. Always the same old Billy.
It was a sunny June afternoon. I was out for a run in Golden Gate Park, plugged in to some angry hard rock on my iPod. Out of nowhere came Billy Chen-Wing on an old red bicycle, barefoot. His jet black hair looked like the fine tip of a Chinese calligraphy brush, except the spiky tips were dyed purple. He made a funny wheeeeeeee sound as he passed. The scent of oranges filled the air, a swirl of blossom as he passed. A paper box kite was tied to the finger of his right hand and it spun crazily as he rattled by, wheeeeing. From the side, his mouth looked like a painted-on line, but then he turned and smiled, his lips fattening over bright white teeth, his face, round and sweet, lit up like a born-again Buddha.
"Catch me for a prize pretty one, catch me, catch me if you can!"
Then Billy was gone on the red bike, my heart already beginning to crumble, and I took off, chasing him down the windy path, following the citrus breeze, his crazy laugh, the spinning kite. He rattled down a little hill and past the Japanese Garden, into the pine forest and around to the big white museum. I finally caught him there, but only because he'd stopped and was pulling something from a black leather messenger bag. I stood panting, dripping with sweat, my lungs practically detached from my ribs.
Billy Chen-Wing dropped the bike and held up a thin blue paper airplane. He tossed it at me and walked into the museum. I unfolded it to find the elegant hand-painted brush strokes that form Chinese characters.
TOWARD THE TEMPLE OF HEAPED FRAGRANCE
Not knowing the way to the Temple of Heaped Fragrance,
Under miles of mountain-cloud I have wandered
Through ancient woods without a human track;
But now on the height I hear a bell.
A rillet sings over winding rocks,
The sun is tempered by green pines...
And at twilight, close to an emptying pool,
Thought can conquer the Passion-Dragon.
Later, much later (a few weeks at least) on Billy Chen-Wing's bed, naked and warm, breathing in the smell of Billy's orange-scented skin and staring up at a hundred paper kites suspended from his ceiling, he would read the message to me. He read it in Chinese and then in English. And then he dipped a brush in ink and painted it in thick, fat strokes onto my back, my thighs, my stomach. Billy tipped his head back and laughed and laughed when I stood up. The Chinese painted lady with red hair and pale freckled shoulders and a dancing Irish ass. He blew on my skin as the ink dried.
"Come into the kitchen, painted pretty one," Billy said, pushing his face between my breasts and placing a thin hand on each cheek. "There is nothing like living, breathing poetry working the dough to make the noodles come out right."
Billy doesn't believe in love. Or romance. He doesn't believe in you or me either. He believes in moonrise and tide, wavecurl and ice crystal. Billy Chen-Wing believes in cradling the energy of the world in his hands like noodle dough, infinitely extended, and sharing it in the most interesting, intimate ways.
I wish you could have seen us. Was it yesterday or does it just seem like yesterday? Actually, it was about ten years from now, when we had a little place near the beach.
That day at the museum Billy Chen-Wing didn't wait for me inside. I went searching. I found him lying on his back beneath an outrigger canoe suspended from the ceiling -- in the Museum of Oceanic Art.
"Caught you if I could," I said softly, tossing the re-folded plane, light as bird bones. It landed on Billy's chest. "What does it say and what is my prize, silly one?"
"You'll have to learn Chinese if you want to know," Billy said, reaching up and placing his hand softly on my bare ankle. "Until then, just enjoy the way it feels when it leaves your hand and the way your lungs sing when you chase it and the way your mind is soothed when you gaze upon the characters. As for the prize, why that is you, pretty one. You caught me. Now you are mine."
DRINKING ALONE WITH THE MOON
From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no one with me --
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring...
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were boon companions.
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.
...Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watch the long road of the River of Stars.
How did Billy Chen-Wing break my heart? Oh, he took it out, held it throbbing in his open palms, and lifted it to the sky. The cool rain came down and washed it pink, washed the red away. Billy broke my heart with song and dance. Billy broke my heart with laughter -- opened me wide to the world with his crazy ways. Billy laid me bare and life would never be the same again.
Thirty-six years from now, Billy will still paint poetry on my parchment skin. I will still wade into the saltwater under the dock with him, giggling, looking for starfish in the moonlight. Billy will have braided my hair and tied it with dried strands of seaweed. "You are my Celtic siren," he will say. "Life begins and ends at the edge of the sea."
I've just buttered some toast for breakfast -- along with a poached egg and a dish of rice and pretty green honeydew melon balls. Now Billy is tipping the rice onto the plate and arranging his meal on his plate into a landscape. It will get cold. Hush wife. Hush. The melon is a rising moon, the rice an island, the egg frothy waves against the shore. Only when it is perfect will he eat it. I shake my head and giggle at him.
"What do you see, pretty?" Billy asks.
"Mmmm...I see your cold breakfast and an island surrounded by a stormy sea. The melon moon is rising."
Billy pulls me to him and sets me on his lap. He slides his hands slowly up my back, palms warm, fingertips cool, all along life's narrow edge that is my spine. It feels so good.
"Close your eyes."
A SONG OF A PURE-HEARTED GIRL I can feel him stiffen beneath me. His hands are under my summer halter, sliding up beneath my breasts, softly massaging my stomach. He blows little puffs of warm air onto the nape of my neck.
Lakka-trees ripen two by two
And mandarin-ducks die side by side.
If a true-hearted girl will love only her husband,
In a life as faithfully lived as theirs,
What troubling wave can arrive to vex
A spirit like water in a timeless well?
"Open your eyes," Billy says, nibbling at my ear. "What is on the plate now?"
I gasp -- it is not a lovely landscape at all but the shape of a woman, the very essence of woman, all honeydew and sticky rice and yolk.
"Billy!" I say, turning around, straddling him, and pushing a dripping green ball to his grinning mouth. He presses his lips to mine, wraps his hands in my hair. Our breakfast, as you might imagine, was eaten cold.
This morning Billy and I went surfing. He's like Neptune in the water -- fearless yet reverent of the sea. We kissed on our beach blanket, the cool wind blowing little mounds of sound around our feet, the sun warm -- all of those California beach sounds and smells part of our rapture. We walked barefoot in the sand, denim rolled to our knees. Billy Chen-Wing will take my hand and pinch me on the ass. I will lean into him and laugh and bleed a little. The wind will toss our hair -- we'll smile into the breeze -- Billy's laughter is mapped across his face in deep grooves of topographic wonderment.
People walk along the shore near the water's edge. They are stooping and raising, stooping and raising. As we near an old woman and a little girl we see what is going on, that they are collecting live sand dollars, dark grey, unbleached and yet breathing, for sale in beach shops. A boy appears, tossing the creatures to a horrible, suffocating death deep inside a plastic bag.
"Terrible!" Billy cries out. "We will save them!"
Billy will let go of his red and blue spinning kit and rush to the water's edge. Together we race up and down the shore, flinging the sand dollars back into the sea, away from the poachers.
And then, when the sun sets, we strip bare, hold hands, and slip unseen beneath the waves, nothing left but the sweet fragrance of oranges and Billy's spinning kite, tail dancing, high above the sea.