You hear the whispers of rain over the mourning of bells. Together, matching every step, they spread over Hangzhou like a congregating puddle. You follow the path of the rhythm. It’s all around you, sinking into the boughs of trees, dousing the smoke rising in the distance. One more second in this rain and you nearly forget why you’re here.

Vanessa butterflies flutter no more in the snow

and the stirring of the soul, when pitted against a roaring river,

too, die against the flow.

The courtyard is exactly how you remember it. When you pause before the ivy-clad walls, it’s like you never left. The same stone chairs and tables sit in the center of the yard. Sunlight bathes the rippling pond, tinting floating lotus flowers with gold. You step closer. 

The constant flowers bloom and wilt as time goes by,

But the essence of its beholders is for one to descry.

Lone plum petals drift upon the surface of the no-longer unclouded water. Through the layer of algae that turns the water green, you catch a glimpse of your own reflection. That, too, has changed.

A slight wind lifts the brass bells. You think between the soft chimes that fade away in the wind.

It’s been twenty years. Twenty years since you last walked this path, sat upon these chairs, gazed at the misty horizon. Twenty years since you last visited this city. 

To another fleeting bearer of pinnacle prime,

To send sympathies for eternal holders of time.

Someday. That’s what you always told yourself. Someday you’d come back to confront what time has stolen from you, give yourself and your lost ones the assurance you’ve all been waiting for. 

How long have you spent waiting for someday?

There comes a rustle behind you. 

Your heart spins you around with your hands outstretched.

Faded are spring and thy sumptuous past,

Traded for winter and remnants thou hast.

Your hand is briefly suspended in midair, then you drop your hands and smile at everything around you. No one else is here; no one would come here. You are the only one surrounded by these tall walls and arching willows, wandering in the mist that’s settled over Hangzhou.

As if urging you on, the rain blows down, sweeping up an eddy of wind in its midst.

Tap, tap, tap. 

Sometimes this rhythm haunted your dreams even thousands of miles away from here. You can’t forget everything you left behind because rainfall in Hangzhou carries a song. The lyrics patter on the roof, reminding you of how hollow it is. There are names in its cadence. These are the names you’d never forget— the names that made up the best moments of your life.

You lifted your eyes skyward. You close your eyes, let the familiar rain wet your cheeks like the touch of an old friend. 

As tempests strip away a songbird’s singing,

Cranes indwell the dusk and a sparrow’s lamenting.

The only rhythm you sought was the rhythm in your own heart. But along with the cobwebs and dust of the past, it washes away.

Tianmei He is a Chinese-American writer and poet residing near the Great Lakes. She edits several literary magazines, and in her spare time enjoys painting, singing, and photographing.