Morning

Duo Duo
Chinese
b. 1951

 

It’s morning or any time, it’s morning.
You dream of waking up, you’re afraid of waking up
so you say: you’re afraid of ropes, afraid of women with faces of birds, so
you dream of your father
speaking bird words, drinking bird milk.
You dream of your father as a bachelor
who by chance, not in a dream
had you, you dream the dream your father dreamed.
You dream that your father says: this is a dream a dead man dreamed.

You don’t believe but you’re inclined to believe
this is a dream, only a dream, and it’s yours:
it was once the handlebar of a bicycle keeping the shape squeezed by a hand.
Now it droops from your father’s belly.
It was once a son refusing to be born.
Now it’s you
crawling back to that handlebar. You’ve dreamed of all the details
like the teeth your father dropped on the ground, glittering
and laughing at you.
So you are not the death
but merely a case of death: you’ve dreamed your dream’s death.

Returning to Live in the Country

In honor of Dragon Boat Day, we present this work by one of the great poets of the Six Dynasties.

Tao Yuanming
Chinese
365 – 427

 

Young, I was always free of common feeling.
It was in my nature to love the hills and mountains.
Mindlessly I was caught in the dust-filled trap.
Waking up, thirty years had gone.
The caged bird wants the old trees and air.
Fish in their pool miss the ancient stream.
I plough the earth at the edge of South Moor.
Keeping life simple, return to my plot and garden.
My place is hardly more than a few fields.
My house has eight or nine small rooms.
Elm-trees and Willows shade the back.
Plum-trees and Peach-trees reach the door.
Misted, misted the distant village.
Drifting, the soft swirls of smoke.
Somewhere a dog barks deep in the winding lanes.
A cockerel crows from the top of the mulberry tree.
No heat and dust behind my closed doors.
My bare rooms are filled with space and silence.
Too long a prisoner, captive in a cage,
Now I can get back again to Nature.

Chang’an

Lu Zhaolin
Chinese
634 – 684

 

Chang’an’s broad avenues link up with narrow lanes,
There black oxen and white horses, coaches of fragrant woods,
Jade-fit palanquins go left and right, past the mansions of lords,
Gold riding whips in a long train move toward barons’ homes.
Dragons bite jeweled canopies, catching the morning sun,
The phoenix disgorges dangling fringe, draped with evening’s red clouds.
A hundred yards of gossamer strands strain to enwrap the trees,
While a single graceful flock of birds join their cries among flowers.
Cries among flowers, playful butterflies, by the palace’s thousand gates,
Emerald trees, silver terraces, in a thousand different colors.
Double-decked passage ways, intertwined windows make the union of lovers,
Paired tower gates, rising layers of tiles sweeping as phoenix wings.
The Liang clan’s mural tower rises into the skies,
The Emperor of Han’s golden columns jut straight beyond the clouds.
But those you gaze on before great buildings are those you do not know,
And those you meet upon the paths, no acquaintance of yours.
Tell me of her who plays the pipes off into purple mists —
She has spent her years of beauty studying dancing.
If we could become the sole fish, why would we flee from death?
Could we but be the mandarin ducks, no yearnings to be immortals.
The sole fish, the mandarin ducks; they are truly worth of our yearning —
They come and go in pairs, can’t you see them now?
Most I hate that the single phoenix woven in the top of the drapery;
Most I love the swallow pair fixed on the curtained door.
Pairs of swallows fly in their pairs around the painted beams,
There, gauze hangings, the kingfisher quilt, scent of tumeric.
Then one by one, hairdos like clouds, cicada-wing curls hanging,
Eyebrows slender like new moons above the tawny oils
Tawny with oil, white with powder, they step from coaches,
Charms within, loveliness within, hearts not fixed on one.
Bewitching boys on jeweled horses with ironblack spots,
And courtesans, pins of coiling dragons, golden legs bent under.
In the office of the Censorate the crows cry by night,
By the Constabulary gate the sparrows go to roost.
Mightily rising Vermillion Walls look down on roads like jade,
In the distance, azure carriages sink behind gold-fasten bastions.
Slings are clasped, falcons flown north of Duling,
Lots drawn for killing by sworn companions west of the Wei.
Greeting each other the bravos with lotus-hilted swords,
Spending nights together on peach and plum roads, the houses of singing girls.
At sunset in the singing girls’ houses are skirts of purple gauze,
And a verse of clear singing comes swelling from their mouths.
In the northern halls night after night, people move as the moon,
On southern paths at every dawn, riders move as the clouds.
Southward paths and northern halls link through the Northern Quarter,
Then great crossroads and wide highways rein in the Markets.
Plaint willows and green ash hang brushing the earth,
Sweet air and red dust rise darkening the skies.
Royal heralds of the House of Han come, a thousand outriders,
Kingfisher colored liquors in parrot shaped goblets.
Blouses of gauze and jeweled sashes are taken off for you,
The songs of Yan, the dances of Wu for you performed.
But there are others bold and splendid called “minister” and “general,”
The day turns, the heavens roll, and neither will yield to the other.
Haughty spirits ever willing to push aside a [morally upright] Guanfu,
A hold on power which cannot give in the least to a Minister Xiao.
Haughty spirits, hold on power, the stuff of ruthless heroes.
Blue Dragon and Purple Swallow, great steeds in the spring wind.
They said themselves their songs and dances would last a thousand years,
And claimed a pride and extravagance beyond the Great Lords.
But the glory of each thing in its season was not to wait on them,
Mulberry fields and green oceans interchange in an instant.
Where once were the golden stairs, the halls of white marble,
We now see only the green pines remaining.
Silent there in the emptiness the dwelling of Yang Xiong,
Year after year, every year, his whole bed covered with books.
Alone are the cassia flowers, blooming on South Mountain,
They fly back and forth, fly into his sleeves.

Rain

Lu You
Chinese
1125 – 1209

 

In twilit crosslight begins
as cocoon unthreads,

brushes earth,
then hard arrowheads, airborne.

Through mosquito net light rays
to daybreak-dreams

as the brass stove’s sweet grass
steam spring clothes.

Pond fish whip caudal fin
to follow spillway;

over weir swallows zoom, wheel,
touch wings, return.

Petals have only fallen
not yet blown away,

but wet blooms ruddling bough
are where I put trust.

Selling Wilted Peonies

We present this work in honor of Chinese New Year.

Yu Xuanji
Chinese
844 – 869

 

Facing the wind, she raises a sigh as the petals fall and fall;
fragrant thoughts all sink and vanish with yet another spring.
No one asks about them, because their price is high,
though even butterflies can’t come close to a fragrance that’s so strong.
Red petals that should only have grown in a palace,
jade-green leaves tainted by the dust of the road
if only they were moved into the imperial gardens,
young nobles would regret having no means to buy!

For the Courtesan Ch’ing Lin

We present this work in honor of the Chung Yeung Festival.

Wu Tsao
Chinese
1799 – 1862

 

On your slender body
Your jade and coral girdle ornaments chime
Like those of a celestial companion
Come from the Green Jade City of Heaven.
One smile from you when we meet,
And I become speechless and forget every word.
For too long you have gathered flowers,
And leaned against the bamboos,
Your green sleeves growing cold,
In your deserted valley:
I can visualize you all alone,
A girl harboring her cryptic thoughts.

You glow like a perfumed lamp
In the gathering shadows.
We play wine games
And recite each other’s poems.
Then you sing `Remembering South of the River’
With its heart breaking verses. Then
We paint each other’s beautiful eyebrows.
I want to possess you completely –
Your jade body
And your promised heart.

It is Spring.
Vast mists cover the Five Lakes.
My dear, let me buy a red painted boat
And carry you away.

Climbing West of Lotus Flower Peak

We present this work in honor of the Chinese holiday, National Day.

Li Po
Chinese
701 – 762

 

Amongst the grandeur of Hua Shan
I climb to the Flower Peak,
and fancy I see fairies and immortals
carrying lotus in their
sacred white hands, robes flowing
they fly filling the sky with colour
as they rise to the palace of heaven,
inviting me to go to the cloud stage
and see Wei Shu-ching, guardian angel
of Hua Shan; so dreamily I go with them
riding to the sky on the back
of wild geese which call as they fly,
but when we look below at Loyang,
not so clear because of the mist,
everywhere could be seen looting
armies, which took Loyang, creating
chaos and madness with blood
flowing everywhere; like animals of prey
rebel army men made into officials
with caps and robes to match.