The Seven Tales of the India Traders: The First Day

These are a set of tales I have tried to publish over the years. They have been soundly rejected by every publisher I sent them to – over 30. None of them can decide whether they are really for children or really for adults. And, truth be told, I don’t know either. So I put them here for all to enjoy – I am a fabulist as well as a poet. There are seven tales, one of which is written in heroic couplets. I’ll post each individually. Please let me know if you enjoy these.

day-lilyThe Seven Tales of the India Traders

Meeting in Autumn

“Master Lon Po!”
“Wise Liang-chieh!
“At last we meet again!”

For hundreds of years traders journeyed between India and China. Seven traders made a promise that if they met at summer’s end, returning to China, they should each bring with them a new tale.

They also decided, because of the season, that their stories should be about autumn. And so with the blessing of fortune, they met that autumn at the foot of the great Himalayan mountains.

They threw sticks and by these means decided who should tell the first tale. It was P’ang Yün. This delighted the other traders for they all agreed he was the most thoughtful among them and his sentiments the most agreeable. Pang Yün began his story.

P’ang Yün’s Story

My beloved friends, I have traded in the arid city of Rajputana, where the great ball of the sun kneels at nightfall to kiss the red earth. I met an ancient trading in Byssus—a cloth that is like the color of sand. He showed me his cloth and said: Is not as soft as a woman’s touch? Then I asked him, is not one still softer than the other? He smiled then and said: “I will tell you a story.”

The Naked Crane

There was a man who lived by himself. The sands of a desert reached behind him while a sea stretched before him. His only visitors were cranes who came in spring and autumn and their beauty astounded him. They were like the brilliant whites of the waves on a summer’s day. He thought the  water’s foam had given birth to them.
He lived in a hovel with one door and a window. There was one crane that peered, sometimes, at its reflection in the window. This happened every spring and autumn. Then one autumn the crane did not leave with the others but stayed before the window even as autumn grew colder. Though he was happy to see her, the man was puzzled by the crane.

She did not see him behind the window. The crane saw only her reflection, without knowing it was her own. Each day she begged the crane in the window to follow her. The wind, driving the sun southward, would soon make winter of what remained. She mistook the reflection for one whom she loved. And though she knew frost must soon come, she would not leave. There is warmth, she said, a great river where papyrus grows, where winter does not come. But her lover, though doing exactly as she did, made no sound nor ever came out from behind the window.

Then Frost came, through hundreds of leagues of sea, touching every living thing with tiny spears of ice. He moved quickly and surely, for his legs, arms and fingers were narrow and impossibly long. He paused when he saw the crane. It was not often that he came upon such a creature. Why hasn’t the north wind driven you south to Aegyptys? he asked. I await my lover, answered the crane. Do not cover the window with your ice or we will no longer see one another.

Then Frost saw that she had mistaken her reflection for another crane. He said nothing of her mistake but grinned to himself. He said that he would only spare the window if she gave him a feather. She readily agreed, for a crane may spare a single feather. Yet each evening Frost returned and each time asked for another feather. She grew cold and yet, she thought to herself, a crane may spare a few feathers for love.

As the crane peered at the window the man gradually came to imagine it was himself she peered at. Her beauty entranced him. He took a candle and placed it in the window so the crane would have light as the nights grew longer. But when the crane saw the flame burning in the breast of her own reflection she cried out. She thought she beheld her lover’s soul. Surely, she said, if your soul shines so brilliantly, you are not long for the world.

Then she wept.

Each day, as Frost took another feather, her form changed. She became more like a woman. Her wings became slender arms and her legs took the shape of a woman’s until she was left naked. Then the wind chilled her bitterly and she lay down as if to sleep. The man saw that she had changed and, as if awakened from a spell, he went out, took her into his arms and brought her into his hut.

Frost had taken her feathers and could fly. He soared into the clouds. At his touch, the world saw snow for the first time. All who beheld it were astonished. So great was Frost’s joy that soon the earth lay under a blanket of snow. Then he finally remembered the crane. He returned to the shore but saw no sign of her. He wept at what he had done and searched a day and night before he finally peered into the man’s window. There she lay. She was more beautiful than ever before. Frost fell in love with her.

The crane, no longer a crane but a woman, awoke gazing into the man’s eyes. He held her and kept her folded in blankets. He fed her a broth simmering over a small kitchen flame. When she gazed at him, though she was surprised, she also saw something familiar. Always, behind the reflection she had loved, she had also unknowingly peered at him. Now it was his gaze that held her. She did not look away.

Frost often returned and with his sharp fingers traced feathers on the glass  to remind her of who she had been. By this he meant, he would return her feathers. Yet when she saw the feathers of ice spiraling on the glass she breathed on them and melted them away with a wipe of her hand. She loved the man, held him as he had held her, and soon had children by him. She remembered the great river beyond the desert, where there was always warmth, and one day led her husband and children out of the hovel to never return.

Here Ends P’ang Yün’s Tale

Followed by another tale on the The Second Day

stamp-copyright-2009

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