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COUNTING IN CHINESE / Lynda Hull Past midnight, September, and the moon dangles mottled like a party lantern about to erupt in smoke. The first leaves in the gutter eddy, devilled by this wind that's travelled years, whole latitudes, to find me here believing I smell the fragrance of mock orange. For weeks sometimes, I can go without thinking of you. Crumpled movie handbills lift then skitter across the pavement. They advertise the one I've just seen—Drunken Angel—Kurosawa's early film of occupied Japan, the Tokyo slums an underworld of makeshift market stalls and shacks where Matsu, the consumptive gangster, dances in a zoot suit to a nightclub's swing band. The singer mimes a parody of Cab Calloway in Japanese. And later, as Matsu leans coughing in a dance-hall girl's rented room, her painted cardboard puppet etches shadows on the wall that predict his rival's swift razor and the death scene's slow unfurling, how he falls endlessly it seems through a set of doors into a heaven of laundry: sheets on the line, the obis and kimonos stirring with his passage. And all of this equals a stark arithmetic of choices, his fate the final sum. Why must it take so long to value what's surrendered so casually? I see you clearly now, the way you'd wait for me, flashy beneath the Orpheum's rococo marquee in your Hong Kong hoodlum's 112 · The Missouri Review suit, that tough-guy way you'd flick your cigarette when I was late. You'd consult the platinum watch, the one you'd lose that year to poker. I could find again our room above the Lucky Life Café, the cast iron district of sweat-shop lofts. But now the square's deserted in this small midwestern town, sidewalks washed in the vague irreal glow of shopwindows, my face translucent in the plate glass. I remember this the way Td remember a knife against my throat: that night, after the overdose, you told me to count, to calm myself. You put together the rice paper lantern and when the bulb heated the frame it spun shadows—dragon, phoenix, dragon and phoenix tumbling across the walls where the clothes you'd washed at the sink hung drying on a nailed cord. The mock orange on the sill blessed everything in that room with its plungent useless scent. Forgive me. I am cold and draw my sweater close. I discover that Tm counting, out loud, in Chinese. Lynda Hull THE MISSOURI REVIEW -113 ...


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