a tapestry, given by the king of portugal to the emperor of china

statue of a portuguese hero in macau ©papa osmubal

statue of a portuguese hero in macau ©papa osmubal

a tapestry, given by the king of portugal to the emperor of china

leung ping kwan

                         translated by brian holton

from the Paço da Ribeira
to the Yonghe Palace from the mighty Don João V
was sent a messenger bearing other gifts
to be given to the Yongzheng Emperor

and a lofty diplomatic mission
to return a favour between the nations
to commemorate the Yongzheng Emperor’s accession
to ease the severity of recent diplomatic policy
to guarantee the safety and the profits of the Portuguese in Macau

it boarded to the exalted sound of trumpets
crossed an endless roaring ocean
red silk backing criss-crossed with gold and silver threads
weaving out heroic deeds of officers of state
to be presented by one palace to another
each a residence protecting a Son of Heaven, from one mighty monarch
to another, on the admiring eye imprinting
heroic achievements, daily affirming eternal glory

everyone knows
in nine pieces
packed in two wooden chests
the tapestry
was stuck in the bottom of the ship’s hold
and first had to wait for the [proper] wind direction
before it could set out on its voyage
then in Rio, in Brazil
it suffered a hard winter
waited till the weather turned warm
then sailed out for Batavia
stayed a month
waiting for provisions
meanwhile Don João V, King of Portugal
ate legs of lamb
drank wine
arrested commoners
erected magnificent buildings
celebrated his birthdays
dispatched armadas
went ashore on all kinds of islands
and gave orders for the weaving of tapestries
waiting for the recording of these things
and at this stage of waiting
the Yongzheng Emperor
also did things
he had people put to death
had people put in prison
carried out a Literary Inquisition
and the people he disliked
he had them dug up from their graves
to make them to die again
he sent armies everywhere on punitive expeditions
and killed a good many people
while he was waiting
he did things like that
what was he waiting for?
no-one knows
but maybe it included
the far-voyaging
narrative of immortal events
the heroic tapestry?

the heroic tapestry
as it was sailing toward him on its long voyage
was it as if it had crossed eternity?
no, it was merely that
a voyage of one year and two months
was nothing
except the sun rising and setting
the weather changing
except for life
and moths
in the wet and the emptiness
coming every day to eat
mouthful by mouthful
for breakfast
afternoon tea
at midnight
bit by bit
enjoying it
so there was nothing
left for
His Majesty

(September 1998)


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