Spring Wind

Spring Wind

Old pine tree seems the only one
excited by the first warm wind

Empty-handed, the others barely nod
at his hundred foot tall child’s soul

Who remembers the world with no flowers
no leaves no bees who knows

What was and knows what’s coming

Night (for Ruan Ji) [after and for Mei Yao-ch’en]

Night (for Ruan Ji)

日從東溟轉, 夜向西海沉.

From the east the day comes spinning, revolving towards
the strange west, where descending evening colors the ocean’s every drop.

羣物各已息, 衆星燦然森.

Every living thing is resting, or holding its breath, it’s hard to tell
on nights when the toad swallows the moon –

蝦蟇將食月, 魑魅爭出陰.

Starlight glinting from every pine needle – or is it a million swords
unsheathed, our demons striving to materialize out of the dark cluster?

阮籍獨不寐, 徘徊起彈琴.

Only you, my friend, sleepless, pacing in your room, can sense it; only you
with a word, or a wave across your zither, can turn the knife’s edge back into night.

*

[Note: This is the most recent draft of a work based on a poem of Mei Yao-ch’en (1002-1060), about whom I have written many poems on this blog. The first version can be found here. The three between that draft and this one were too incomplete to share, so I’m sparing you those.

My continuing thanks to Chen Zhang, Chinese Literary Preceptor at Harvard University, for her explication and patience. She not only provided a word-for-word translation but important historical and critical perspective that helped me locate this work closer to the heart of Mei’s writing; she also provided her own enthusiasm for this specific poem. Sitting alone with a cup of coffee a few days ago in a Panera Bread with a marvelous view of the twilight saturating the Blue Ridge, I found a way into this poem through the voice of the poet I have appropriated/channeled/imitated in nearly forty other poems that were not attempting to be translations. That voice I was so used to writing in already helped me re-imagine this most recent version, which I think may be closer to a true translation of my friend Sheng-yu’s work. Again, the idea to approach the poem that way came from Chen, who pinpointed so well the difference between interpretation and translation in my many amateur’s questions.

Ruan Ji (210 – 263) was a poet Mei admired. He was also, some might say, an accomplished ne’er-do-well born into a prominent family who was unafraid of leveraging that prominence and wealth to support his chosen vocation as a poet. Some stories about him include him staying drunk for over a month to avoid having to get married, and so impressing an elder in his family with his zither playing one evening that his reputation was upgraded to ne’er-do-well-who-plays-a-mean-zither,-and-that-has-gotta-mean-something. ]

Lament Over Nothing

Lament Over Nothing

 

Somewhere between the tired moon’s glow and my unfocused eyes
I keep seeing winter—snow heaps when it’s just a white van

Across the street; accumulation on the metal roof next door
instead of the bored shine of a lazy evening rain. Tomorrow

It’s spring, I know, and the rain outside should sound less
like ice and more like the first words of flowers and grass.

Wife! every night you cradle your guitar for an hour and put the spirits
in harmony. Come over here and pick me up! And put me back in tune.

National Poetry Month Reading, April 6th @1pm

Just a short note that I’ll be participating in a National Poetry month event again this year, this time at the Massanutten Regional Library, Main branch in Harrisonburg. The reading is at 1pm and will feature four poets, including Angela Carter, Sara Robinson and Rebecca Lilly.

If you happen to be in the Shenandoah Valley in a few weeks, come by! Len, I’ll buy you some coffee (or wine) if you can make it from Turkey. Esther, come on now! The other side of the world is not that far away from Harrisonburg, as the moon flies. C, the weather in Seattle is horrible–you’d come on over to the East coast for day, even to hang out with a Patriots fan, right?

I know there are a bunch of you in my clan much closer. If you’ve got nothing better to do on the first Monday afternoon in April, maybe I will see you there? More info on the Massanutten Regional Library can be found and its other events can be found here.

As with my last reading at Bridgewater College, I will entertain any suggestions for what to read. I will have about ten minutes to read, so will probably read five poems or so. Thoughts?

This lamb has very strong opinions on what I should read but for some reason is remaining mum.

This lamb has very strong opinions on what I should read but for some reason is remaining mum.

Walking, Noontime, on a Warm Ides of March, Spring Having Arrived A Week Early

sidewalk character

Walking, Noontime, on a Warm Ides of March, Spring Having Arrived A Week Early

So much easier these days to appear middle-aged!
Moon’s out walking too  – only its topmost perimeter,

frosted white, is visible in this nearly spring blue noon sky.
Maybe that’s how I’m seen today

as I pass through quiet intersections:
almost invisible but for the borders of my graying temples.

Night [after and for Mei Yao-ch’en]

NIGHT

日從東溟轉, 夜向西海沉.

The unhurried day drizzles, turns
westward and sinks beneath the sea.

羣物各已息, 衆星燦然森.

All things hold their breath, the stars
just right, glorious like the forest.

蝦蟇將食月, 魑魅爭出陰.

The toad on the moon eats,
the demons strive to come out of the clouds.

阮籍獨不寐, 徘徊起彈琴.

The city dozed fitfully, alone, hesitated,
then rose and picked up its instrument.

 

*

[Note: This is a first draft of a work based on a poem of Mei Yao-ch’en (1002-1060), about whom I have written many poems on this blog. As with the previous poem I shared, this will likely change greatly from its current state to a final accurate version more worthy of being called a translation. The method I’m following is unusual but feels most natural for me — To write an impression of the poem gathered into my own poem in English, and then to continue to write a poem in English, and another, with the hope that each one gets closer and closer to my friend Sheng-yu’s poem in its traditional Chinese characters, till they are at least close enough to nod at each other or share a bottle of wine.  Chen Zhang, who is busy at Harvard finishing her dissertation while teaching as the Chinese Literary Preceptor up there in Cambridge, furnished me with the traditional characters for Mei’s  poem. I will keep you updated on any new versions. ]