Chinese Zodiac

You sit down to order a simple plate

of chicken chow mein and discover

you’re a monkey or a tiger or a snake.


As you munch fried noodles your

paper placemat gives it to you straight:

you are talented and affectionate, marry a sheep.


The goldfish in the tank across the

room swim in and out of a huge,

submerged pagoda while you try

to remember the birthdays

of every woman you ever loved.

Maybe none were sheep;

that’s why things didn’t work out.


Pouring yourself a tiny cup of tea,

barely a mouthful, a giant’s tear,

you examine the menagerie on your placemat,

twelve animals, each illustrated in red.


Why is a cock compatible with

a snake? And why should a dragon avoid

a dog? Perhaps true wisdom lurks beyond

the brink of comprehension.


Which is why you lean back into the

vinyl booth and lose interest in the whole idea.

Sure, life is a zoo, people are animals,

rats and dogs are everywhere, but

for now your hunger takes over as

the waiter scoops steaming rice onto your plate.


You eat like a tiger, aggressive and courageous,

wondering if the solitary woman across the room

might be showing signs of timidity, elegance. If so,

she could be a sheep, you just might make it.


You’ll marry in the spring and she’ll

give birth to three strong children, Tom,

the tiger, Alex, the rabbit, and Annabell,

the pint-sized dragon.


Wolff Bowden, From “Heavyweight Champion of The Night”