Long Gu

in response to a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Flight of Swallows Over the Field of Gold

Calm are the thoughts, serene the visage & regular the bowels of he who partakes of a dragon’s bone. Swallows visit him with eternal summer. For as every doctor of traditional Chinese medicine knows, dragon bone powder (long gu) is the king of sedatives, subdues manic episodes & tames insomnia. In order to be fully efficacious, its collector too must calm his mind, by (for example) ingesting dragon bone. Therefore it is said: If you want a dragon’s bones, become a dragon. A true sage can rest in emptiness & ride the wind, not knowing where he’ll stop, can turn into a bird & become immortal. The mere sight of him mortifies a dragon, whose proper realm is the boundless void, & it writhes like a candle flame in the wind & gutters into stone. From this rapid constriction comes its famed astringency, so useful in the fight against night sweats & diarrhoea. The sage has only to pierce the dragon’s skull & let its spirit loose, becalmed in the void called extinction.


Another alternative reading. (I think Clive thought he was painting St. George.) One website I looked at said that these days, long gu is derived from fossil bones — presumably dinosaurs and mammoths. However, Chinese medical use has driven other, actual species to the brink of extinction, such as the black rhino and the Siberian tiger.