“Young man”, said Bu Fu at the beginning of the first lesson, "though I am a sorcerer, we must begin at the beginning."
"And what's the beginning?" said Chi Po.
"Tell me, my foolish piece of youth, if your mother and father could give you anything you desired, what things would you ask them for?"
That was a question Chi Pohad often dreamed of himself, and had answered, too, in his dreams. So he replied without hesitation: "Anew hoop, a dog from Peking, strawberries and whipped cream every afternoon, and two rocking chairs, one for Father and one for Mother, because they have always wanted rocking chairs."
"Now sit at the door of my cave," said Bu Fu, "and watch the sky and the trees, and watch above all the wind and the destruction of the clouds, and watch the squirrels and the conies, and dream of the brush and of your hand which will sweep over the silk of your next painting."
With this Bu Fupronounced several frightful incantations, and abandoning Chi Po at the mouth of the cave, he went gathering acorns. Only the bulbul remained with Chi. He sat on a branch where he could watch the newcomer, and you could see by the tilt of his head and the angle of his beak that he doubted whether Chi could do it. And it wasn't easy. Now that BuFu had reminded him of the new hoop and the strawberries, Chi Po found it hard to send his thoughts into the trees and to keep his eye on the destruction of the clouds. But the afternoon was warm, and Chi settled drowsily with his back to the cave, chewing on a pine needle as he sat.
He watched a cloud leave the top of a cedar and edge cautiously over to the top of another cedar -- "Like a tightrope walker," thought Chi. And then he heard the wind: well now, it 'ooooed' against the rocks, and 'frushled' among the leaves, and tickled in the pines, and it just went loose above the earth. And on top of the wind went the snitting of the sparrows, the wild geese, the magpies, and above all, the lilling of the scarlet-throated winch, and "Oh," thought Chi Po, "the treble of the birds and the bass of the wind -- the high of the mountain and the low of the river -- the king and the slave -- father and boy -- above and below -- spring and winter," and on he went in this way, delighted with his discovery and getting drowsy indeed, while the bulbul watched him out of his single eye.
"Young one," said Bu Fu, returning with the acorns, "what is on your mind?" "Oh," said Chi Po, a little ashamed, "nothing." "Excellent, supreme," cried Bu Fu, his beard quivering. "You have had your first lesson. Now go home, because I have work in hand. Come back tomorrow. If your mind is still free of that clutter of strawberries and rocking chairs, I will allow you to paint a single dragonfly on a single lotus flower. Off then!"
"So," said Bu Fu the next day, when Chi Po came puffing up to the cave, "what of the clutter?"
"I hope it is still gone, sir," answered Chi Po. "May I try the dragonfly, please?"
"And the lotus blossom. Yes, you may."
And Bu Fu told Chi Po why a dragonfly needs a flower, and why a flower needs a dragonfly, for the one stays in the ground and rises from the ground upward, while the other moves about and descends from the sky downward.
"Therefore," said Chi Po, "I must paint them where they meet, where down flows into up and up flows into down."
~ Oscar Mandel.
~ Artwork: Sukanya Kar.