Dead Sea Scroll fragment

Berthold Werner

Fragments from Ripley’s
Big Book Believe it or Not

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“If all the Chinese in the world,” the caption
states, “would spend their lives parading past
a given point, they never could. As fast
or faster than they disappear from action,
they first procreate; and China’s teeming
billions will replenish their own crop—
the dead replaced by newborns chop-chop-chop.”
(A yellowed sketch shows rows of peasants beaming.)

The cadres wake us just before the dawning:
thin, unwashed rice with twigs and bits of stones
is all there is to start each day. The moans
arise at once and go on through the morning
until, at noon, we stop to rest atop
a mist-laced mountain pass. Still four-abreast,
we sit and sip some broth. Those at the crest
send word that far below a golden crop

of rape is mixed with rows of jade in neat,
small plots; and on the jagged, lesser hills
they see bamboo forests; water spills
through ponds of tiger lily pads and sweet,
fat carp flow red and silver from their lairs.
Old Fong, the leader of the Second File,
approaches us, and shares a sad, slow smile:
“They mock the Book and think that no one cares.”

“Believe it,” Robert Ripley wrote, “or not—
at such-and-such a steady marching pace,
deployed in ranks defined by so-much space—
count those who pass, those dead, and those begot—
I see it all, I know, I keep the score,
this race will last forever and forevermore.”

We are the mountain-marchers, and so we
breathe cleaner air than vermin who have chosen
to live as lowland pig-shit people, frozen
in their crowded huts while we are free
to quick-step through the rain and twisted pine—
no longings or belongings, we are pure
as winter’s snow-fed streams, we shall endure,
obey the Book and man the endless line.

Tonight, we have been told, we will descend,
to tear apart the evil gardens, burn
their houses, poison all the ponds; return
the village to its mud and brick, and send
a message ringing out before we leave.
To put an end to all this heresy
we chant His name, “Yip Lee, Yip Lee, Yip Lee.”
Yip Lee says we, and only we, believe.