Shrine of the Kitchen God
Tell me what causes you
to throw stones of unkindness
into the stream of happiness,
acting like the dogs that slink
and snap through streets.
Old, old one tells the tale, her voice
warm gravel in the dim room,
lying on her warm-brick bed,
a grandchild at each elbow.
A long, long time past
when the Dragon Emperor went up the mountain
each year to speak with the gods
Chang Kung's family lived
a hundred relatives
in one house like a city
fathers, mothers, children and elders
and no one ever argued
Even dogs were polite enough to wait to dine together.
News of the remarkable family
reaches even the Emperor's ears,
with a retinue of the tallest guards
in costumes of blue and red,
scholars in green and blue gowns
embroidered with peacocks,
and finally the Dragon in his sedan chair,
to learn their secret.
Chang Kung and the Dragon Emperor
sip tea from cups as thin as fine paper
and share their wisdom with each other.
"Very Excellent and Very Aged Sir,
I have heard no ripple of discord uttered
in any room of your home."
"Lord of Ten Thousand Years,
you do my house great honor.
It pleases me to tell you this is the truth."
"I should like to know your secret,
Excellent One of Great Age."
Chang Kung smiles at the Emperor
calls forth his servants bearing
the library's four precious gems:
stone water well.
Brush to stone, brush to ink, brush to bamboo
the Elder writes a word one hundred times.
"Here, O Son of Heaven,
is our golden secret."
"You have written many words,
and only one word many times.
Grandfather, you have written kindness."
Such was Chang Kung's famous kindness
that people began keeping his picture in their kitchens,
where he could collect our kindness from the cook stove's smoke
and make his report to the gods
Each twenty-third day of the twelfth moon
we burn incense, sedan chairs of paper,
and light our firecrackers
to let the Kitchen God know
we remember to be kind.
Old, old one picks up her embroidery again,
the grandchildren have finished nibbling sugared apricots,
and Old Lao Lao wants her nap.
The grandchildren scramble into the sunny afternoon,
their voices ringing in the Courtyard of Politeness.