My fingers skitter like spiders over the book spines as I look for the particular one I came upstairs to find. “The Multi-Orgasmic man” by Mantak Chia, “Think on These Things” by Krishnamurti, “The Mystical Kaballah” by Dion Fortune, “Fire” by Lisabet Sarai (signed by the author), “My Secret Garden” by Nancy Friday, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. I’m not seeing it, the paperback libretto of “Gotterdammerung” I wanted to read when I’m snacking on the DVD from the library. I think I have another print out of it somewhere in a little binder.
Its been harder for me to find the books I want since I got these nice bookcases at Salvation Army for fifty bucks a while back. I used to have all my books arranged by genre on their own shelves, but after unshelving and reshelving them at random I find its nicer to be out of order. It’s like fumbling my way through a crowd of acquaintances and old friends and even some strangers looking for a certain person. Its more fun to search and you discover things on the way. Occasionally I toss a book behind my shoulder onto the guest bed promising myself I’ll look at it.
I wonder what a guest in this room would think if they looked over my books. When I visit people’s homes, which isn’t very often, I always sneak a good look at their book shelf. If they have books. A house without books seems somehow to me to be lacking soul, like a kitchen without dirty dishes. You learn a lot about people and what’s in their head and heart by seeing what they read. Any guest looking at my bookcases late at night while the house is asleep would get a good cross section about what I think about and who I admire. I would love to believe that such a person might think I could be interesting.
The libretto will be on the lower shelf where all the tall books and printouts are piled, so I start thumbing through that stack. Between a stack of software manuals there’s an old looking manila folder. Maybe this.
It’s a print out from an old computer dot matrix line printer, so old that the single staple in the corner is rusted.
I sit down on the floor and read the first couple of paragraphs:
Quiet Down! Quiet Down!
(all attention is focused on the man with the vase)
Pu Yi! Li Chen! You know this custom. Pu Yi, you place the vase on your head and together take five steps without losing the vase. If you complete the five steps your marriage will be blessed with good luck.
I remember this. I wrote this late at night in the photo studio we had in the New Yorker Hotel in 1993, when I was a photographer, back in my religious days. There was a celebration for some special holy day or other, God knows what, and I wanted to do something more than just take pictures. I wrote a play, a kind of musical. One of the very first things I ever tried to write. I was so proud of this play.
Well, I can see all the little steals here and there, from Fiddler on the Roof and even King Lear. My proud effort was received with a kind of embarrassed cough. They never put it on, which hurt me at the time. But in those days entertainers in my religious sect were very territorial; they had their own ways of putting on an evening. Photographers in the end are only house servants.
Twenty years ago, it was. It makes me laugh - whatever would those very pious folks have thought of the kind of stuff I write now?
But me - I kept this. Moreover, I kept the flame.
As I thumb through it I realize I’ve forgotten the story completely. Twenty years is long enough for a cold reading.
It turns out it’s a story about a poor but good man named Pu Yi in ancient China (named for an actual poet). The story begins with a wedding ceremony as Pu Yi is married to a young woman named Li Chen. He doesn’t know she’s a benign but fearsome sorceress. On their wedding night she consults with her spirit helpers and tell them she is going straight and will live as a mortal woman. She has a dragon bedspread with an elaborate design that is the talisman of her clan and has powerful magic. Thinking its a dowry, Pu Yi sells it the next day to the evil Governor Chang in order to get cash to set up a family farm. Chang recognizes it as an object of power and realizes Pu Yi is married to the powerful and beautiful witch he has always coveted for a wife. He announces he is coming to their house for tea the next day. Li Chen goes wild when she finds out he sold the bed spread and they have a falling out just as the Governor arrives. The Governor gets Pu Yi drunk and kidnaps Li Chen. She spurns him and he imprisons her but she is freed by her guardian demons and the help of a thief. Pu Yi thinks she ran off with the wealthy governor by choice and is broken hearted but still wants to see her. He and the Governor fight with swords and the Governor is killed. The governor’s attendant's force Pu Yi to secretly take his place because they want to keep their jobs and had privately hated the Governor for his violence and corruption.
The emperor of China dies without children and the bird of paradise flies out and chooses his successor. The bird lands on Li Chen and she becomes the new Empress of Heaven.
She summons Governor Chang for a reckoning, thinking that he has killed Pu Yi and tosses him into the dungeon. That night she comes to the cell, intending to accuse him and kill him with magic. During this nearly fatal encounter Pu Yi reveals himself and they’re reunited. Happy ending. HEA.
Okay, Shakespeare it ain’t. But not bad for a beginner and much more ambitious than anything I write these days.
Sitting on the floor of the guest room, thumbing through these pages, time just goes right on flying by. In another twenty years I may know what to do with this.