David Lewis Paget

(22.11.1944 / Nottingham, England/live in Australia)

The Chinese Lamp


I was travelling through the country
That was once East Turkestan,
Keeping my western mouth shut in
The province, Xinjiang,
I wasn’t going to linger there,
I had planned to head due east,
And follow the Western Wall to where
They spoke my Shanghainese.

They spoke a myriad dialects
All over Xinjiang,
There must have been forty languages,
And I didn’t know but one,
I had to get by with signing ‘til
I wandered in through the trees,
Into a tiny village where
A man spoke Shanghainese.

He stood in front of a tiny shop
That was selling drink and dates,
And something evil that looked like worms
All white, and served on a plate,
He said, ‘Ni Hao’, and ushered me in
And I took what I could get,
Shut my eyes and shovelled it in,
I can taste the foul stuff yet.

But there in the back of the tiny shop
Were a host of curios,
Most of them antique statuettes
The sort that the tourists chose,
But up on a shelf, I saw a lamp
Covered in grease and dust,
I said, ‘How much do you want for it? ’
‘More than your soul, I trust! ’

I said, ‘It looks like Aladdin’s Lamp,
But that was the Middle East! ’
He shook his head and he said to me,
‘Aladdin was Chinese!
His palace used to be over there, ’
And he pointed out to a mound,
A hill of rubble and pottery shards
That covered a hectare round.

He said he’d fossicked the ancient mound
And found all sorts of things,
Cups and plates and statuettes
And even golden rings,
But the thing he found that intrigued him most
Was the finding of that lamp,
He’d dug it out of a cellar there
That was cold, and dark, and damp.

And there by the lamp was an ancient scroll
With instructions in Chinese,
‘Don’t rub the lamp for a trivial thought
For the Djinn will not be pleased,
There are seven and seventy wishes here
Then the Djinn’s released from the spell,
But if you should wish the seventy-eighth
Then you’ll find yourself in hell! ’

‘So how many wishes have now been wished, ’
But the old man shook his head,
‘If I knew that, would I still be here,
I would rather this, than dead.’
He said that he’d been afraid to wish
For the lamp was ancient then,
Had passed through many since it was new,
Back in Aladdin’s den.

I offered to give him a thousand yuan,
But he shook his head, and sighed,
‘I’d rather keep it a curio,
It’s just a question of pride.’
I raised my bid, ten thousand yuan
And his face broke into a smile,
‘For that I would sell my mother’s hand,
And she’s been gone for a while.’

I paid the money and took the lamp
Then wandered into the street,
Held my breath and I thought of death,
And then of my aching feet,
Shanghai was a couple of months away
If I walked as the rivers flowed,
So I rubbed the lamp and I made a wish,
Woke up on the Nanjing Road.

It only had taken a minute or so
To travel a thousand miles,
I put the lamp in my haversack
And warmed to the Shanghai smiles,
I had a meal, and rented a room
And fell in bliss on the bed,
What I could do with another wish
Was the thought that entered my head.

I’m writing this by the flickering light
Of a candle, stuck in the lamp,
All I can smell is candlewax
And the air in here is damp,
I rubbed the lamp and I made a wish
But smoke poured out of the spout,
The Djinn took off with a howl of glee,
There’s no way of getting out!

2 January 2014

Submitted: Wednesday, January 01, 2014

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