Raquel Chalfi


So, it’s like this:

Tiny bumps of fear on my flesh

because of a journey to the other side of the globe

a journey hanging over my head

like a black cloud before the break

and I’m intently debating whether to go or not

and I fall from weakness

every time I think of that voyage—this voyage

and my heart falls from weakness

when I think of leaving behind

my Love

my lovely Love my rickety Love

whose black eyes will pounce on every woman on all of them

when I am not here

So it’s like this: I throw three coins

and ask the I Ching in my heart

the question that strikes fear in my heart

and Chien comes out six strong lines of Chien

I already see it is something

very positive and strong I already see

this ancient book is winking mischievously

So it’s like this: “above -- the creative Chien. Sky.

below -- the creative Chien. Sky.”

These six whole lines, says the I Ching, stand for the power

primal light-giving strong active power of the spirit.

“A strong hexagram. Without weakness. Its essence is power. Its image is heaven.

The strong person moves forward.” Oh, yes. Should I go?

And the I Ching continues in an ancient Chinese voice:

“Nine in the beginning means: Hidden dragon. Do not act.”

The images flicker in my mind. My heart muddles. After all, “The strong one

moves forward.” So why “Do not act”? And what of my Love?

A hundred ancient Chinese chant into my burning ears:

“The dragon the dragon the dragon is the symbol of motivating power.

The electrical force that is revealed in thunder storms.

Thus too is the great man still unrecognized diffident.”

And what of my rickety Love? Should I not go?

The second line means: “Dragon appearing in the field.” The third is not relevant.

The fourth line says: “Wavering flight over the depths. No blame.”

And onward, to the fifth: “Flying dragon in the heavens.”

The sixth line, the last, warns: “Arrogant dragon

will have cause to repent.” Dragon claw stirs in my hair. I

run to flip through another version of the ancient book.

Ho hee. The I Ching continues to preach. All the lines together say:

“There appears a flight of dragons without heads.

Good fortune.

The severed heads will soften the strength of the dragon.

Strength and mildness join in good fortune.”

Am I hallucinating the I Ching? Is it hallucinating me?

Seeking, seeking explanations. Dragons in China. Half a feverish yellow night passes over me with a virginal pile of books books unopened

until tonight. And here is a dragonly miracle: “In China dragon teeth heal

convulsions. Dragon teeth will comfort the heart, will soothe melancholy.”

Dragon teeth? Where shall I find them? Should I hunt dragon?

And I go on reading: In the days of the reign of Huang-Dee, who began his rule

two thousand seven hundred years B.C.,

“The Bamboo Chronicle” tells of the dragon ch’i-lin:

“The noblest of creatures. Of divine origin. The emblem of serenity.

“Never would it eat a living thing. Never place a hoof on growing grass.”

A-ha. And what of my beloved? And if China, then I must have India too.

Now I bend over a portrait of Buddha’s sculpture. Even he

is protected by the Naga, the good snake-dragons. Aha. Naga. Buddha.

Not enough. So it’s like this: “In the drawing before us

is Ananda the eternal the giant dragon snake.

The symbol of cosmic energy. The god Vishnu rests upon him.”

Here is Vishnu with eyes shut resting in Nirvana

his reclining body and four arms on the body of Ananda

sailing in cosmic waters.

My head sails in cosmic waters my body wants to go back to my bed my tumbled bed

my insomniac bed How will I understand How will I understand the I Ching

How will the I Ching understand me?

So it’s like this:

A halo of radiant-black dragons whole and headless electric

soft-hard good-evil terrible noble divine

round my head

my little head

searching trembling through the pages of the I Ching

while the electric sparked eyes of my beloved

are shut

and he sleeps calmly

as his mouth emits the snore

of a lightning-stormed night


translated by Karen Alkalay-Gut

For more on Raquel Chalfi, go to the ITI site