The Ancient Modern
I Am Drinking With Li Bai In New Mexico And We Interrogate the Moon! / Joshua Alan Sturgill
What joy, my friend! What joy to raise a cup with you beneath the Moon—so high, we are beside Her, near enough to see the shadows play around the corners of Her smile!
We will drown the time with wine, we three! You and I will make demands we wouldn’t dare in sober daylight: Moon, dear Moon! How should we address You? Ma’am, or Mistress? Lady Night?
Perhaps, Your Milk-and-Ivory Majesty? All as you will! Here we are before you, two properly inebriated men, who wish to question your immortal heart. We only ask from boldness granted by the vine—
—and only then because the vines were pruned and pressed by lunar calculation. Your light and grace were in these grapes, and under your directorship became a tonic for emboldening our voice!
Dearest, tell us secretly: we want to know: which is the river you love most? Of all the flowing waters that reflect your opalescent loveliness, which receives your best affections, undiffused?
We have decided, now between ourselves, that no river is the same in faith and flood as any other; and you, having seen your Face in each will know which one is clearest in its response to you.
Which river, Dearest, do you most adore? Li Bai swears by the Yangtze; I by the Rio Grande. And who could settle this, our dark dispute, except the Patroness of Enlightenment Herself?
All dark can be dissolved by your decision, Lady Moon. But now, Li Bai my friend, I sense a troubled silence—and in it, I seem to hear, or rather, see an answer, as if gathered from a flight above the Earth:
the Nile rushes North, the Mississippi South; the Amazon and wide Missouri East. I see with you Euphrates and the Tigris traveling South; the mighty Volga East and South—but none flow Westward—none at all!
No continent-crossing river follows faithfully along Your course from East to West, dear Moon. The waterways of our respective lands all race to make their errands without acknowledging the affinity you have for water—
—an affinity the ocean returns without delay in its rising and its falling tides. So hear us, dear Moon: we cannot change the course of rivers, but we two can make a small amends: Li Bai for the Yangtze and I for the Rio Grand:
We raise our cups of wine to you, drinking deep while facing East to where you rise. Then these will be two rivers, two devoted hearts to follow you! And we will say—
What joy! Dear Peace-filled Lady, Gentle Night! What joy!