View from Li-Chao's Husband, or Afterward to an Afterward on Records on Metal and Stone"
Friend, let me advise you. Friend, do not marry. Collect yourself a nice-looking cook for the kitchen, a winsome maid for the tidying up of one's bedroom, and let your mother boss you around every now and then, if you are the type of man who likes that sort of thing.
Collect women rather than take one woman to wife. Collect women like books. One does not read one book all one's life. Rather different books exist for different purposes and give readers access to different realms of knowledge. So it should be with women. Have a different woman for different purposes, and never settle on one single one for all.
If you must marry, marry a woman who cannot write from the country, no matter how big her feet.
Never, never marry a poetess.
When I first met her, I had no idea of the many words that could run through her mind, could run through her veins like poisoned blood and seep through her fingers onto the page into the print of dancing yet ugly characters that would tell my sorry tale. I thought her a woman of few words. I thought her smile as lovely as a fresh and tiny peach. I thought my wife's feet were like the tiny peonies of paintings of my dreams. I thought she was like a statue, no a musical instrument, carved of ivory bone, white and silent save for the tunes a man might play upon her.
Li Ch'ing-Chao's poem "Afterward to Records on Metal and Stone" first speaks of two men, Ch'ang-yu and Yuan-k'ai. She calls them deluded by the importance of their possessions, loving collecting as I came to as well. She says that I her husband had the hoarding disease, like a fox or a rat that keeps bits of metal. Like those creatures, she implies, I collected more and more things, all of which were somehow the same and served to reflect only my own image.
What poison, reader! I brought home these rubbings with the sweetest fruit to nourish my wife's silent mouth. I thought that by looking over them together, I could teach her about a passion for knowledge and beauty beyond the love one would enjoy with an ignorant woman or a mere courtesan.
Once, I wished to bring her home a painting of such peonies but I could not afford it. She told me that it was better because I would remember it more, because I could not clutch it in my hand. Like a fisherman who remembers only the slimy scales of the prey that eludes him, so I would feel about the metal, she said.
A realize she was right. I do remember that painting and I do not remember the different between the many different metal drawings of old men and fish that lined the hall of my study.
She was mine, too, though and I remember her, even though I had her. I suppose that is what she implied, in her comment about the metal peonies that would never wither, no matter how little the gardener watered them.
Yet I never felt I 'had' my wife. How is this so, when I married her and knew her nightly as a man ought to know his wife, as was my right? A man should 'have' his wife more than anything else. She is his even when he is neither touching nor gazing upon her, entirely of his domain and his home. She is the yin that balances his yang, the melding of opposites, yet part of him in a state of utter completeness. I felt as if she was an enclosed circle of white and I an enclosed circle of darkness with nary a spot of the other within one another.
How can one truly have a yin, though, when one is sick upon the element of metal, and weighted down by this desire, beyond all desires to enjoy water, fire, air, or earth?
Perhaps that is why I was so driven to possess. No matter how much I bought and stuffed my home, my wife's soul was her own. I could not touch it, nor even make myself fully want to touch it, for fear of getting soaked, burned, intoxicated upon her oxygen, or entangled in the tentacles of her long hair and legs.
A liked to think this was her fault at the time.
Why was this so? My wife never reproached me, never tried to control my household like the shrewish wives of folklore. Her voice was ever high, tender, and low, like a small and gentle bell.
No, no -- she did reproach me. But always in such a way that I could not argue or confront her, only eat my heart bitter on the memory of guilt afterward. "Life is a record of losses," she once said to me. "See the clam's shell, how it records its existence in ugliness, even though the eaten creature itself is fine and warm to the taste and tongue? It is like a handsome man who lives in an ugly home, trapped in things, trapped in wood and stone and metal of its own creation."
The losses of the money I spent on my beloved metal possessions, and the knowledge of my beloved books, she implied. Like a creature that died in its own hard shell, I would leave behind nothing but hard, hulking things.
Now history records her as the pearl our marital chafing caused from the clam of our discord. She was the pure thing of sand and stone of our struggle, the struggle caused by the fact that someday I would die and leave nothing behind but her. And her words.
Why have we no meat to eat?" I asked her. "Every day our repast grows smaller. Have all the chickens in China died?"
We do not have enough money for meat," my wife said quietly. "Even for chicken. Why do you comment? Usually you do not notice what we eat? I could serve you stones and you would gulp them whole with your chopsticks." She looked around at the library, the growing museum of my life and life's love that stretched around us. "We eat upon the food of knowledge instead, the shadows of ourselves."
It is better to feed the mind than the stomach," I snapped back at her, and left the table.
But what of the beauty of the eyes, my eyes, that used to delight you, she asked my retreating back. What of my lost beauty?
I could hear her thinking as if she spoke. She never argued against me in words, of course, because that would be impertinent for a wife to do. But I knew I was, if not mad, then unbalanced in my drive to collect and possess and freeze myself in stone. I no longer cared for the softness of the element of the water of my wife's cheek, the earthiness of her nether parts, the fire of her eyes and the smoke scented air of her perfume.
All I could hear was the metallic click of the chopsticks that held up her hair and that she used to eat our poor vegetable filled meals. She would put the one steamed meat dumpling upon my plate. All this told me how my passion for metal had done away with her love for me.
It did away with her beauty as well. Before my eyes, she grew drawn and thin. Because of the mania of my fine metal, the image that once delighted my eyes had to do away with all the beauty in her dress. She wore gray…