Eulogy for Bao Bayun

Jade Song

 

Today we mourn our great leader. A loss of great consequence: how hungry our stomachs, how boring our stories, how cold our campfires will be.
No one knows when he arrived on this land. Some say he came when the valleys were flat, when the rivers were trickles, when memories were just moments, when the concept of time had not yet been born. Some say he came at the same time as the others, who had straw for muscles and squints for eyes and horsetail braids for hair, who came for lumber and railroads and laundry and furs, but mostly for gold—it has always been about the gold—but unlike the others who caught ships and died along the way, a death at the hands of a year-long ocean’s journey was not our leader’s destiny. Our leader stood at the edge of eastern China, lifted his foot, and tipped forward instead. One step.
When he regained his balance on this western land, he left a heavy footprint, so wide and deep from his broad and muscled body that the land couldn’t regain itself. It sunk in defeat. You know it as California’s Central Valley, but we know it as the first great American footprint.
He walked forward and the land walked with him.
His second and third footprints created Lake Tahoe and Lake Shasta. The skies cried in awe at his arrival and filled his prints with their tears.
After those three land-shifting steps, he learned to walk quieter, softer—from toe to heel rather than flat-footed stomp—for he was a kind man despite his brute appearance. He wanted the earth to love him for who he was rather than what he seemed, the way he loved the earth for what it gave and not what it could be. Every time he pulled a tree out by its branches, using the trunk to sell as lumber and the roots to comb his beard, he would scatter seeds of the same tree type behind him, for he believed not leave no trace but leave it better than how you found it. Then he would squat and shit all over the seeds, his feces so nutritious that newborn sprouts would peek up as soon as he had finished. If he was constipated, for he often was, he would rejuvenate the land through asshole exhalations, his farts so hot he left forest fires in his wake. Forest fires of purpose. To renew the soil, to encourage it to start again. We never stood in his line of fire, for we never approached him from the back, only the front. Respect meant face to face, and he earned ours in full, collecting us like he did lumber, gathering us into his thick embrace. We were strays and loners with no families: Chinamen, Indians, Irishmen, Mexicans, Desis, and Frenchmen, and our leader shared what little he did have with all of us. He used his money from lumber to make our beds softer, our pancakes fluffier. That’s why we stayed. Because he treated us the way he treated himself.

 

Today we note his death, but we also celebrate his birth.
It was a night when crickets and cicadas participated in vocal debauchery, a night with a spill of stars obscured by campfire embers, a night of hushed tall tales, when he told us the story of how he came to be.

 

Jade Song is a writer, art director, and artist living in New York City. Her debut novel CHLORINE is forthcoming in early 2023 from William Morrow.