July 2, 2004

Little Red Book

Chairman Mao's Little Red Book (Berkeley, 1976)

I still have D.'s little red book:
"Study Chairman Mao's writings,
follow his teachings,
and act according to his instructions."
A first edition of the Foreign Language Press, 1966,
an echo of Berkeley
in turn echoing the Cultural Revolution,
a baptism of call and response
in vague militant hope and faith.

Inside the all-weather, red plastic take-it-everywhere-you-go cover,
a scrawled DLB is inscribed in rub-on imitation gold leaf
that used to come with mail-order classics.

Ten years down the line,
I found the little red book the other night unpacking,
surprised with no idea how it ended among my things.
To think of it, I don't know how D. came by it or when.
I only remember D. in his room, at his desk,
unshaven, dragging on Marlboros,
and balancing a can of coke on this little red book
-- D., alias Muhammed Ulainov, our comrade fearless leader.

On this one, the spiral vortex of ring upon ring
about the dead center red star tells that story.
Looking at it now,
turning its pages for the first time since....
I think that perhaps, like my guitar which without me
made the trip to Brazil and back and back again,
to die one night I remember though I wasn't there,
stepped on in a drunken Machu Pichu fray....
I think that D.'s copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao
found its way through the great Berkeley diaspora
into my hands that it, too,
could become a little legend in its death.

Like the guitar, D.'s little red book survives itself
-- balance of the past, beyond which we cannot live.
These little lost things will not let us.

D.'s little red book is missing
its frontispiece portrait of Mr. Mao,
supreme father of our great motherland's happy, healthy peoples,
the wizened cheerleader to our exultant cries of violent joy,
"The People United...."

If I remember rightly,
it was somewhere between Idaho and Utah,
during a cramped card game
in the back of T.'s yellow cab,
that Chairman Mao, torn out,
became the missing Jack of Diamonds
-- an elevation of sorts.
Transmogrified, he lives on,
mismatched among the other Jacks.

Chairman Mao he dead.
And cannot return
to his little red deck of wisdom.