Red on red on red
The red crabapple blossoms
Cover the courtyard
In the Japanese Garden
Rare respect for the fallen
White on black on white
The white crabapple blossoms
Float on dark waters
White letters on a black sheet
Writing this poem in reverse
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Cao Xueqin Memorial, Nanjing China. Cao Xueqin wrote “Dream of Red Mansions.’
First snowfall – shrouds the city
Pale white veil – hides the full moon
Yesterday was the first snowfall of the season in Montreal and, as first snowfalls always do, it transformed the city. Car-owners and climate curmudgeons griped about the coming winter, but I rejoiced in the wondrous metamorphosis of the cityscape.
Nanjing’s famous Wutong trees crested with snow.
The most dramatic example of the transformation of a city by snowfall that I have ever witnessed was in Nanjing, China in January 2008. Although the city can get some snowfall every winter, that year saw the biggest snowstorms in China in over 50 years. Occurring as it did during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday, it resulted in travel chaos.
However, it also allowed me to the see the city I had been living in for 5 years with completely new, snow-blinded eyes. Nanjing, known as one of the four ovens of China, is always a city that I will associate with suffocating heat, so to walk around it in all its snow-covered winter glory was quite a rare treat.
I saw him stooping down to pick-up a twig with blossoms on it. I had just left my house on my way to work. The branch might have blown off in last night’s wind and rain, or someone may have snapped it off and then abandoned it. I was impressed that he retrieved it from the gutter and I thought of Lin Daiyu from the Dream of Red Mansions and her famous burial of the fallen blossoms.
What I was doing when I noticed him was shepherding one of the neighbourhood cats. More often than not, it was waiting for passersby beside the bush at the end of the back alley. When you did pass it, it would race along side you until you reached the door to the apartment building where I assume its owner lives. The cat would mew and purr, encouraging you to open the door. I usually tried, but 9 times out of 10 it was locked and so I would leave the cat to hopelessly entreat the next passerby.
Having rescued the fallen flowers, the stranger noticed the cat and, as I moved on, he crossed the street, crouched down and addressed the animal. It has always struck me as odd that people are so willing to address unknown animals that do not understand their speech, yet are so hesitant to talk to strange people who just might comprehend them. We both talked to the cat, but did not speak to each other.
Further along Laurier Ave, I was startled by the sight of a homeless person who had wrapped himself in a blanket and bedded down in an alcove for the evening.
The white shape reminded me of the decapitated pigeon I had seen lying beside the sidewalk the previous day. Someone had taken the trouble to wrap its corpse in paper towels and its tapered, white form mirrored perfectly the shape of the shrouded, sleeping homeless guy. Was it out of a sense of respect that the pigeon had been swaddled, or was it an attempt on the part of the beheader to hide the results of his or her actions?
Retracing my steps home that evening the headless pigeon, the homeless man, the flower-rescuer and the disappointed cat were all gone. I expect to see, and disappoint, the cat again.