PROEMS FROM A GONE WORLD: THE EARLY PROSE AND POETRY OF AMOS STOLTZFUS


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Taichung



     Street noises are not left behind when one leaves the West. The road in Taichung is crammed with oxcarts, scooters, bicycles and pedicabs. Scrawny chickens squawk and kick in the dirt yards and a screeching turkey is striding along beside me. A live pig rides by strapped on a bicycle fender, delivering a recitation worthy of a Chicago cabbie. Up ahead a tank is rattling across the pavement.

     I pass a group of pedicabs clustered at a corner. The drivers are gambling at go, moving black and white pebbles onto a wooden board. At the next crossroad a palm is painted on a large placard in a shop front. Dotted lines divide the hand into segments, each marked with a Chinese character. Inside hangs a poster displaying a diagram of a man's head, similarly apportioned.

     In the next block are shops whose placards depict a man with a goiter, women with black moles on their cheeks. There is what appears to be a pet hospital, with dogs tied in the yard. Wall tigers, diminutive green-brown lizards, scamper along the walls surrounding the Nationalist army barracks.

     Two Americans in brown uniforms roll by in a jeep. I stop at the corner, pulling my map from my pocket. The sun is slowly becoming hotter. The map shows a circular area a few streets up to the right from where I stand. Three small boys stare up at me, jabbering "hello, hello". I say "hi" and they laugh and recite their GI English.

     The circle on the map is a park. I push through the wire gate and start down the perimeter path. The sun is higher, but the foliage provides some shelter. The trees are thick, with overgrown roots, creased and gnarled as an elephant's trunk. What sort of tree did the Buddha sit under? Banyan, bodhi . . .But that was in India. A bum in old trousers is sleeping by a low bush.

     A pond lies in the middle of the park, with an arched bridge where the water narrows. On the other side an octagonal bandstand or cupola is built out over the water. Hanging on the walls inside are framed black and white photographs: three dignitaries at a microphone, a runner at a sports event, two elephants. I stand at the rail and watch the water. The pool is thick with algae, green with a surface scum. Across the pond an old woman is sitting on a green wooden bench, her hands in her lap, keeping her back straight. Water beetles ski out over the surface.

     I return to the path and pass a Buddhist priest sitting on a log. He is wearing a dirty grey robe and a brown leather begging bag hangs over his shoulder. The stubble is growing back on his shaven head; he stares at the ground between his sandaled feet.

     A noise like a Salvation Army band -- up to the left in a clearing is a schoolyard. I stroll up to the fence and look over at the young children drawn up in six straight lines. Four boys in clean short sleeved shirts are banging the drums they carry hung around their necks. Three others join them with tin cymbals. The teacher, a thin young woman, accompanys them on a battered portable organ, producing thick reedy skirlings. The children place their hands over their hearts; a boy and girl approach the flagpole with a banner. The flag is attached and hoisted while the children sing the national anthem, accompanied by cymbals and organ. As the pennant reaches the top of the pole, the drummers join.

     The priest appears suddenly beside me, scratching his head, walking carefully, concentrating on the path. There is sweat on my face and I feel the sun. The noises of shouting and the rumbling of an oxcart from the street fade in over the children's racket. I follow the priest through the gate, back into the road. A half-naked, dirt-streaked youngster is urinating in the ditch.

--Amos Stoltzfus




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