living with mysteries…

6figures

Imperial Garden


by Billy Collins

It was at the end of dinner,


the two of us in a red booth


maintaining our silence,


when I decided to compose a message


for the fortune cookie you were soon to receive.

Avoid mulishness when choosing


a position on the great board game of life

was my mean-spirited contribution

to the treasury of Confucian wisdom.

But while we waited for the cookies,

the slices of oranges,

and the inescapable pot of watery tea,


I realized that by mulishness


I meant your refusal to let me

have my own way every time I wanted it.

I watched you looking off to the side—


your mass of dark hair,


your profile softened by lamplight—

and then I made up a fortune for myself.

He who acts like a jerk


on an island of his own creation


will have only the horizon for a friend.

I seemed to be getting worse at this,


I thought, as the cookies arrived at the table


along with the orange slices


and a teapot painted with tigers


menacingly peering out from the undergrowth.

The restaurant was quiet then.


The waiter returned to looking out at the street,


a zither whimpered in the background,

and we turned to our cookies,


cracking the brittle shells


then rolling into little balls


the tiny scrolls of our destinies


before dropping them, unread, into our cups of tea—


a little good-luck thing we’d been doing ever since we met.
 
Billy Collins, “Imperial Garden” from Whale Day and Other Poems published by Random House. © 2020 Billy Collins. Used with permission of the Chris Calhoun Agency.

Living with mystery means sometimes I have to look inside for the answer.

move to a different drum

give time to discern a decision

hold to the circle of solidarity

Jeanne 2021

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