Personal Choice 73
Dreaming in the Shanghai Restaurant
I would like to be that elderly Chinese gentleman.
He wears a gold watch with a gold bracelet,
But a shirt without sleeves or tie.
He has good luck moles on his face,
but is not disfigured with fortune.
His wife resembles him, but is still a handsome woman,
She has never bound her feet or her belly.
Some of the party are his children, it seems,
And some his grandchildren;
No generation appears to intimidate another.
He is interested in people, without wanting to convert them or pervert them.
He eats with gusto, but not with lust;
And he drinks, but is not drunk.
He is content with his age, which has always suited him.
When he discusses a dish with the pretty waitress,
It is the dish he discusses, not the waitress.
The table-cloth is not so clean as to show indifference,
Not so dirty as to signify a lack of manners.
He proposes to pay the bill but knows he will not be allowed to.
He walks to the door like a man who doesn’t fret about being respected, since he is;
A daughter or granddaughter opens the door for him,
And he thanks her.
It has been a satisfying evening. Tomorrow
Will be a satisfying morning. In between he will sleep satisfactorily.
I guess that for him it is peace in his time.
It would be agreeable to be this Chinese gentleman.
D J Enright
D J Enright (1920 - 2002) was a British academic, poet, novelist and critic. He authored Academic Year (1955), Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor (1969) and a wide range of essays, reviews, anthologies, children's books and poems. In a poetry reading, Enright remarked, ‘I should perhaps say the restaurant wasn’t in Shanghai nor indeed in any other part of China but in Singapore.’
One of the ‘gifts’ the poet has is as Wordsworth once wrote to see into the life of things. It is also in my experience of really good poems about characters that this same truth is evident. In other words the poet can look at a person and see what the majority of people would completely miss. Enright’s poem is a perfect exemplar of this very sacred and special craft.