It was one of those days that started like a hammer


teeth aimed inward

softened only by a Mozart's Mule

or some other concoction from the waiting wall of bitters.

I thought about how the luster had worn off of everything.

How every relationship seemed virtual, passing, surface;

a mere going through the motions to satisfy agreed upon civil pleasantries.


This led to thoughts of how we are all

in a time of retrogression-with-aggression,

when tea and sympathy aren't going to cut it

and certainly won't cut through all the ferocity, deceit, aging, and rust.


Suddenly, I felt the "spirits" calling out to me.

'How interesting,' I thought, 'that we call spirits spirits and bitters bitters.'


I looked around and saw waif-like men displaced from themselves,

"No Hara", they would say in Japan -

trying to squeeze 'some-elusive-something' from Life

but going senseless in the process.


Some of the women, too, were trying to find themselves

in the fawning cult-of-image,

or in a man; blind leading the blind.


The Apothecarian saddled up across from me,

on the other side of the counter, and asked, "What'll it be?" 

'What'll it be, indeed,' I thought.

I started to say: 'Surprise me'

but a deeper wish caught these words in my throat.

Instead I responded:

"Everyone here is trying to forget. I want to remember."


His eyes flashed wide, as if his invisible lineage suddenly showed up.

He nodded, knowingly, from behind his heart-length beard

and stepped away to do his alchemical calculations.


A few minutes later, a solid base Old Fashioned glass

was lowered to the marble in front of me.

 I raised it to my hawkish nose and inhaled.

Tanned women on white sandy beaches somewhere south of here.

I opened my mouth and inhaled again.

The 10,000-step rose garden of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

I took a first sip.

A soul-part returned; an 'other life' part of me

that is actually an ancestor of myself.


Orange citron on the front...

Smoke, Earth and Freedom on the back.

I felt thick pine winds swirl around me as if I were flying.


I paddled my way through the mixture,

which I named "Goma: Liquid Bonfire Sutra";

umami bitters, Zirbenz pine, Campari,

essence of smoky lapsang souchong reduction.


I visualized the I Ching hexagram:

Mountain Above, Lake Below.

It, too, is all about reduction.


Reduction is very auspicious and blameless if there is truthfulness.

It is appropriate to be steadfast and upright.

It is worthwhile going somewhere.

There is a lake below a mountain. Reduction.

Thus, cultured people eliminate wrath and stop cupidity.


I stepped away from the counter,

bowed to the Memory-Nectar Conjurer,

and reclaimed my oldest poet-name.

(c) 2017 / Frank LaRue Owen (Wandering Stone Lantern) /

To learn more about the guqin (seven-stringed zither) music of Li Xiangting visit Soundings