After the Black Crow Comes to Take Me Away, I Compose These Lines


Artwork by Mary Winifred Hood Schwaner


Note: This poem is not a translation but was created by free-associating with the traditional Chinese characters found one of Mei Yao-ch'en's last poems, written over 960 years ago. What's below is more a round of poetic archaeology--like digging up the characters that made up the poem but not knowing how they fit together, and piecing together something entirely different from them. I hope to actually translate this poem properly one day soon, but thought I would share this curious first stage of the work with you. ----JS

After The Black Spirit Comes to Take Me Away, I Compose These Lines

Dark winged spirit, in the olden days even I had compassion for you! I’d tell folks
who’d just as soon spit on you and curse you if fate came their way on your wings

that Oh! the hour could not contain you, you’d overturn your own nest to shoot out
like sound from a plucked string, even to banishment from your old landlord, time.

Well, the history books are wrong! And here you are, stranded as well, so do not be so quick to reproach these days, too, which the master apprehends, like a bullet flicked across the mind,

a thought just passing, now detached. Sure, you can eat till you’re plump in Taicang,
buy a new nest in Kaoshu township, daybreak’s rooster’s not crying for you,

hundreds of birds will argue who can admire it best
but you cannot approach that phoenix, that emperor, or peep down into its celestial fire.

At this moment, to no avail across the warp of the sky your spirit flies north and south—
Its shadow falls on the cunning rabbit but cannot peck its eyes, or separate the thief from his base.

It’s more complex now that I’m dead, detesting the person with noble aspirations is not the same as becoming fond of this tiny bird that’s come around. I know I’m not either kind,

contrary to who I am, as if I flourished in the Qin or Han dynasties, brave and chivalrous!
Want some advice? Distance yourself from your reputation, Crow. I’ll just carry on on foot. I’ve got

something final to look after.

#fullmoonsocial, anyone? Thursday March 5, 2015

Last full moon of winter will find us later this week. Anyone up for another communal poetry writing and sharing party on this upcoming full moon?  If you are, just use the tag “fullmoonsocial” on your WordPress blog post or #fullmoonsocial if you’re tweeting your poem.

I’ve got the moon hitting full at 1:05 pm EST. At that point, until it sets wherever you happen to be, consider the party to be started. I’ll be following the tags and posting links to your poems as I see them. As with our inaugural full moon social, if you’re interested in having your poem (or photo or artwork, whatever you post!) included in a free epub anthology that I’ll put together shortly after the party, let me know in an email to If you’re contributing, all rights are retained by you. The moon doesn’t take your rights.

Another Reason Why I Wish the House Next Door Had Not Sold, Though It Is Still Abandoned

Another Reason Why I Wish the House Next Door Had Not Sold, Though It Is Still Abandoned

Out my second story window I would see great branches
flowing from an unseen maple’s trunk, striding on the air

to the roof of the house next door.
A month ago two men climbed the tree

to the roof. I watched them slowly saw, saw away
anything they could reach. The new view’s an old metal roof

snow sliding down its creases, winter’s white sky
and a single wren on the tip of tender branch up

where saws could not reach. I used to see squirrels,
a dozen in an hour, traveling branches like highways;

now while I don’t see anything I still hear them
in the gutter over my own window.  But I keep looking

where they used to be: the deepest view an empty one

The Morning After the Ice Storm On the Day After the Snow Storm

My children walk on the foot-high snow leaving no prints
I remember doing that the feeling of not falling through

of being lighter than snow I remember the days I was sure
I would never leave any prints that I could walk

on the surface of the world and leave no trace
then are the days where you feel you are nothing but prints

Nothing but traces and paths and trails and then the days
you wake up to another death and your son

is reading how it took two hundred million years
for trees to develop leaves and

then you are back to leaving no prints

Taking the Dogs Out One Night After a Snowstorm



Taking the Dogs Out One Night After a Snowstorm

The dogs a brown blur against blinding
white barely visible ridges and striations

Patterns of falling and wind-riddance
the shapeless back yard a single unique

print of the storm’s finger but nothing
weighing in as evidence more so

than my daughter’s bright red jacket
so lively against this erasure

like my love for that life and
everything that came before it

and the blue of the twilight
and the black of what follows




Something that was something
else yesterday

with no place to go but down
but not quite enough

to get away
and so becomes a spectacle

to change caught in between

like a debt or identity or

anything else imagined
but its own

weight is real enough
if you can

wait it out
that will be enough too

Under the New Moon There Is A Quiet Layer of Cloud And Beneath That The Coldest Day of the Winter Turns To The Coldest Night

Under the New Moon There Is A Quiet Layer of Cloud And Beneath That The Coldest Day of the Winter Turns To The Coldest Night


Any enclosed space is a temple. While we turned away
the sky came down and delivered news of the moon,

it hangs there just above the trees, a white ceiling
glowing from the light of streetlamps below, it waits

folded like a newspaper delivered but not yet read,
thicker and more important seeming than it will be

when it’s picked through and thinned out
and in some cases like my dad used to do tied in knots

and thrown in the fireplace with kindling where
burning it rises through the cloud’s cold floor

and brings news of the hidden world to the new
moon in its temple of absence