So many times, I’ve visited a designated historical site and failed to connect with the history of that place…
…failed to connect to our history, to my history—to the history of the human race.
But perhaps there are other ways to connect. This short passage from I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, by Maxine Hong Kingston, shows us one way.
She’s visiting the land of her ancestors—rural China—and has landed amidst a group of artists, of painters.
The one she’s nicknamed “Soul Patch” brings forth an ancient clay instrument, a type of flute—the xun. Consider:
“Mr. Soul Patch brings to his lips
a xun, around which his hands fit perfectly,
and blows a music, old from long, long
ago. Our first male ancestor,
Bao Xin Gong, made the xun
of earth, made it earth-shaped, and gave
forth this sound that is the sound of time, from
far off to now to far after, the sound
of the animate winds, the yin wind and the yang
wind, the sound of the first man and this man
breathing song. Hear it and it belongs
to you, and you belong to all of it.”
I think there’s something here that belongs in our new mythology. Perhaps there are many instruments that can do for us what the xun did for Hong Kingston…
The instrument may not even need to be a musical instrument. It can be anything that helps us connect to our distant past—to something deep within ourselves…
We can use this time machine to return to what we never actually lost…
…and in returning—to borrow a line from T.S. Eliot—know that place for the first time.
© 2011, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry