Verses from DRAGON'S TEETH GATE
KUANG HO'S SCHEME
This town of yours, this Singapore,
is little different from what it was five hundred years ago.
Not changed at all, from Dragon’s Teeth Gate,
that deep harbour, that protected shore,
the haunt of pirates, merchants, traders,
shrewd men all ever ready – to cut each other’s throat, for a quick profit.
Your people are the same today.
The same as those who prayed to me, who worshipped prosperity and success,
whose god I was.
For not with stone and wood I mean to build my new and more enduring temples,
but with greed and fear,
those twin lusts, forever tearing at men’s souls.
I know, I who was Imperial Envoy and Admiral,
these two drive men to all achievement:
deep insecurity and discontent that no success can pacify,
and ravenous greed, striving to fill that desperate want:
these are the dragon’s teeth,
between whose clashing men sail out for gain or glory.
On these I’ll build a new dominion, here in Singapore.
CHENG HO’S VOYAGES
Bright were these waters when I sailed them long ago,
cleaving the waves of Dragon’s Teeth Gate.
With brassy gongs, and thundering drums,
and arrows falling thick as monsoon rain,
we subjugated all these islands, exterminated pirates, made vassals of the sultans;
then turned west towards Arabia, and Africa,
where China’s ships had never been.
We sailed across jade oceans to far shores of pearl and coral,
then turned south on coasts unknown.
We saw black men, strange beasts. Giraffes, zebras and ostriches
we sent back for our Emperor’s delight.
Days and months we voyaged on,
each new dawn showing a new coast, still southward tending;
and the land full of marvels, the sky full of strange stars;
and the world bigger than anyone ever knew it to be, more wonderful.
Kuang Ho: My servants year by year are wider spread,
in many countries, climbing, with my aid,
to be most highly placed. One generation passed or two --
and through my obedient agents, I’ll pull the levers of the world;
I’ll have wheels to turn
at every joint of this machine that is society. Then as I choose
I will control supply and price. I’ll deal out deficits and surpluses,
destroy or make employment, cause here inflation,
there prosperity. Riots and rebellions, following these waves of the economy,
will rage wherever I decree. Governments will rise or fall,
and I’ll put my people in the seats of power.
The next great war to wrack the world
will be of my devising, for the extension of my realm.
I’ll stir one hemisphere against the other.
In that bitter madness, while populations die,
on either side my agents will take control. Then in the rubble aftermath,
as men rebuild, amid the great desolations and despairs,
they’ll learn to call on me -- last power left in the world.
Above the ruins they’ll raise my temples --
Kuang Ho, god of devastation, ruler of the earth.
TEMPTATION TO RENUNCIATION
Kuang Ho: So I’ll sweep aside all puny obstacles;
and across the oceans and the continents,
I’ll reign from east to west.
Bodhisattva: Mortals will worship you. You will rule the world.
And ... what joy will you have, greater than the pain of missing heaven?
greater than the daily agony of not being where your soul should be?
Kuang Ho: What agony? I am establishing an empire here,
I’m well content.
Bodhisattva: Child ... no need to lie to me.
For I am Kuan Yin, who turned back at Heaven’s gate.
I know the spirit who lingers in this world
suffers immeasurably. I know your torment.
Kuang Ho Ahh -- what do you know of pain?
Bodhisattva: I know that eyes which have seen reality,
must recognise the world’s poor shadows, shams, illusions.
Nations, and powers, and cities,
are only sticks and painted cloths lit up within a darkened hall,
torepresent a universe ... a frame through which, a night or two,
the actors step, and speak, and pass away.
To you, who have seen what is real, all earth can offer
is like the smell of food for you to eat ,
the sound of running water for your drink ..
all empty, all illusion, denying sustenance
to your eternal thirst and famine.
Kuang Ho: Enough! Be silent!
Bodhisattva: No, don't go away! I command you, stay.
Dissolve those shields, those self-protecting,
self-deceiving lies. Say how it is,
to be a spirit in a world of men.
Kuang Ho: Hard ... harsh ... bitter, intolerable!
How heavily earth’s weight presses ... upon my soul,
naked of fleshy envelope, the winds of earth beat strong;
all sounds too loud, all scents too foul,
the least light piercing to the shadowy brain
llike the fierce eye of God! The lightest breeze stirs up the air
and brings confusion where there should be stillness,
movement instead of peace. Each mortal moment in this jangling world
is, to me, ages of aching chaos.
Bodhisattva : So leave the world then, child,
stop struggling and forget your dreams of conquest:
turn towards tranquility and peace.
Kuang Ho: Save your solicitude, bright lady.
I’ll not buy entry to your heaven, at cost of abdicating all myself.
All my desires, passions, hates, I’ll hold on to them,
for they are mine! I’ll grasp them though they sear like molten suns,
and let your cool Nirvana well be lost.