This poem is spillover from the January 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from siege. It is posted here as the free epic for the March 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl reaching the $200 threshold, selected in an audience poll. This poem belongs to the series Kung Fu Robots.
The old master took Cricket
up a winding, dusty trail
to visit the mountain shrines.
They walked through many square gates
along the way, leaving an offering coin at each.
By the time they reached the shrine
for which they were headed,
Cricket was very thirsty.
"I need to refill my radiator," he said.
"Ah, I know just the thing,"
said the old master. "Come and have
some magic kung fu water."
"What is that?" Cricket asked.
The old master pointed
to a bowl balanced high atop a pole.
"That is magic kung fu water,"
he said. "If you can reach it,
you will learn the secret power of kung fu."
Cricket looked at the tall pole.
There were no notches or rungs
or anything to cling to while climbing it.
"I do not think I could jump
anywhere near as high as the bowl,"
Cricket said to the old master.
"It is not so hard," the old master said,
and with that he sprang into the air,
dipping his fingertips into the bowl
as he passed by it. "Now you try."
Cricket jumped and leaped and hopped
all over that courtyard like its namesake,
but it never came anywhere close to the bowl.
"How clumsy of you," the old master said,
shaking his head. "Let me show you."
So he wrapped his wrinkled hands
around Cricket's mechanical limbs,
positioning them with care.
"Now jump again," he instructed.
This time Cricket went higher,
but still not far enough to reach the bowl.
"I cannot do it," Cricket said.
"I was not designed to jump like that."
"Nonsense," said the old master.
"I was not designed for it either,
and still I learned the art."
He patted one hand downward in the air.
"First, you must imagine the earth
beneath you pushing you away
as you thrust upward with your legs."
Then he patted the other hand upward.
"Next, you must imagine yourself
stepping on a cloud that lifts you higher."
He motioned for Cricket to try it.
Cricket dropped into stance,
and the old master corrected it slightly.
Then Cricket imagined pushing away from the earth
and stepping up on a cloud -- and ah! --
how high that jump went!
Cricket tried again and again,
each time coming a little closer.
It was starting to overheat,
but finally with one valiant effort,
the robot managed to catch the bowl
and land without spilling too much water.
"Very well done!"
said the old master,
and bowed to Cricket.
Cricket poured the magic kung fu water
into its radiator. Instantly the robot
began to feel cooler, but
it did not feel much more magical.
"I thought you said
that this was magic kung fu water!"
Cricket said, glaring at the old master.
"It seems just like ordinary water to me."
"It is ordinary water in the same way
that you were an ordinary robot before
you began to study the Way and learn kung fu,"
the old master said serenely.
"I do not understand,"
Cricket said. "Speak sense."
"It is action, not substance,
which makes the difference,"
the old master said.
He took the bowl from Cricket,
filled it from a hidden cistern,
then leapt up to set it lightly on the pole again.
"Water on the ground is just water,
but when you lift it high, it gains energy.
When you take it back down,
that energy goes into you,"
the old master said to Cricket.
"Kung fu is all about understanding energy:
in the earth, in the sky, in the water,
but most of all in yourself.
Once you know that, Cricket,
you can leap over the very clouds."
Cricket thought about that,
and decided that it would take
more than one afternoon to understand
the full magic of the kung fu water.
The conversation reminded it of something
it had heard earlier, though.
"The man without wings often desires them,"
Cricket said to the old master.
"What does the man who has wings desire?"
The old master stroked his beard thoughtfully.
"I believe that I want a red bean bun," he said.
"Come! I saw a vendor with a cart not far away."