There was an ancient worm
on the hills of Shensi
which had six spines upon its back
that flowed red when it flew
at the Spring moon
ballooning and unballooning its awful wings
in the brick-hearted sun.
Now it has been caught.
They climbed the rootless cliffs
(they were very brave and very determined)
and someone flung the silken ropes
while he was sleeping,
(dreaming of water and cloud spurts)
over the spiny angles of his rough heads
steaming like fire hydrants.
They damped him with fog,
and a promise of the disk like moon
for his own on Mondays.
They led him with milk.
And now he toils.
He is the eater of garbage for a whole prefecture.
He is known to every corner
as the Trash Dragon of Shensi.
And he is too full of old watermelon rinds
and millet straw to pay any attention
to his wings.
Only in sleep
vibrating his spiny reptilian pinions,
does a little steam nicker about his nozzle,
does he buzz a little, throb a little like a train.
He is thinking of red searchlights
in a fishlike moony sky,
and the mountains looking like
great flopped-over turtles below
weaving their legs and heads.
But he no longer believes in flight.
He has accepted his silken attachments.
He has even come—almost–
to believe in the ultimate dignity
of the transmutation
of fish bones and broken squash pods.
© Andrew Glaze, from The Trash Dragon of Shensi, 1978
If Picasso had a “Rose”, and a “Blue Period” for his paintings, then my father went through an “Asian Period” for his poems. In the ‘70’s and 80’s he periodically dabbled in writing Haiku poems and owned several books in that style of poetry. He took great pleasure from one or more large coffee table books on Asian Art around this time, and loved a newly acquired statuette of a little Han Horse so much that he eventually wrote a poem about it. Years later, when it was thought that the statuette was lost during a move to Birmingham, he shed tears.
In a twist of fate, in 1978, when his book The Trash Dragon of Shensi was about to be published, they needed artwork for the cover design. At the time, my brother was dating a Fine Arts Major from Brown University, named Kate Rivingston. By happy coincidence, dragons were a favorite art subject for Kate, and so she became the cover artist for the book. Ten years later, in 1989, she also became my sister-in-law.
Poet Madeline Kumin later said that this poem was a favorite of hers, and in 1978, the entire book received a rave review in The New York Times from writer Peter Schjeldahl.
“Trash Dragon” is probably the closest my father ever came to writing a fable or fairy tale.
Cover art © Kate Rivingston, 1978