Request of a Manchu King
Beneath the honest eye of an Asian sun
a Chinese theater troupe encamped
revealing stained costumes, ragged
sets and a forlorn actor dressed
in his actual, pock-marked skin.
Night conspired to clean and press
costumes, add glitter to plastic jewelry,
turn sets into a plausible semblance
of an ancient Chinese court and the actor once seen
as depressed into a haughty Manchu king.
The cast ventured on stage, mouthed
their lines in sing-song Chinese dialect.
They saw me in the crowd as a thin, white giant
and paused at my appearance.
The Manchu king stared right at me,
stopped the play’s action, and elicited a roar
of laughter from the crowd when he stuck
out his tongue fearlessly in my direction.
Raising my camera was like a director’s cue
and all action froze on stage until the flash
imprinted costumes, set and actors
alike on to one frame of Kodachrome.
Dawn’s uncompromised embrace delivered
the Manchu king back to me as a bald,
short man with a wispy goatee sitting
at my breakfast table requesting a print:
a singular validation of his craft.
Sadly, I explained weeks would pass before
the slide returned from a distant lab.
Do you have an address, I inquired.
He sighed and told me he never knew
the company’s route. Only the owner’s
mistress was privy to such information.
Promise me, he said, if the camera did its trick
and caught the Manchu king on stage,
to let the world know of one actor’s skill.
And your name? I asked.
I am Ling, he replied.
Tell the world about me.
And, so I have.