Mei Yao-ch’en sequence

[Updated 8.24.14]

from a photograph by Jonathan Chaves

from a photograph by Jonathan Chaves

Links to a selection of the poems about Mei Yao-ch’en, in the order they have been written, and in their original versions as posted on this site, can be found below.

You can find some background on the project here. But it might be easier to just start reading…

I Transport Sung Dynasty Poet Mei Yao-Ch‘en Nine Hundred and Sixty Four Years Into the Future to My House, Where He Writes Back to His Friend Hsieh Shih-Hou About Various Things, In This Case Fixed Overhead Lighting
My Friend the Sung Dynasty Poet Mei Yao-Ch’en, Whom I have Transported Into the Future from the Year 1050 A.D., and I Discuss Travel, Distance, and Exile, and He Reports Back to his Friend Hsieh Shih-Hou in the Form of This Poem
Sitting Together Over Jasmine Tea Because All the Holiday Wine is Gone and Talking with Mei Yao-Ch’en, Recently Transported Here by Me from the 11th Century, About the Numbers of History, After Which He Writes the Following Lines to His Friend Hsieh Shih-Hou at Nan-Yang
Inscribed on the Wall in my Home’s Upstairs Hallway by Sung Dynasty Poet Mei Yao-Ch’en, After Maybe More Than a Little Wine and a Late Night Discussion with Him about His Wife Back in the 11th Century From Where I Have Transported Him, and About the Value Poetic and Otherwise of Being Unmoored
Mei Yao-Ch’en, Whom I Have Transported Almost A Thousand Years into the Future But Who Is Nevertheless A Gracious Guest, Drinks Wine with Me After a Warm and Windy Late Winter Rainstorm and We Talk About About Our Mothers, After Which He Writes These Lines On A Towel Hanging in the Upstairs Bathroom
Sung Dynasty Poet Mei Yao-Ch’en Reflects on the Uprisings of the 11th Century as We Watch Events in Syria and the Ukraine Unfold on TV, After Which He Writes to Hsieh Shi-Hou to Ensure His Young Friend’s Safety
Some Lines by Mei Yao-Ch’en Found by Me On The Inside of a Toilet Paper Roll in My Upstairs Bathroom, In Which the Poet Whom I Have Transported To the Present Day from Roughly 1050 C.E., Answers Critics Born Three Quarters of a Century After His Death, and I Still Do Not Know How He Managed to Get This Poem In That Roll But He Does Spend A Lot of Time in There
I Take Mei Yao-Ch’en to the Grocery Store on a Mild Day in Early March Because a Late Winter Storm Has Been Forecast; The Store is Mobbed and Practically All the Shelves Are Empty; Furthermore There is No Salt for the Steep Steps Outside Our House; But There Is Wine and Cinnamon Donettes So We Buy Some of Those and After the Storm Hits My 11thCentury Friend Pens These Lines On a Giant Post-It Note I Took from Work to Chart Productivity Metrics
After the Last Snowstorm of the Season, My 11th Century Friend Mei Yao-Ch’en and I Sit at the Kitchen Counter and Watch the End of the Day, After Which He Writes The Following Lines to be Sent 964 Years Back into the Past to Hsieh Shih-Hou
After Talking About Departed Loved Ones, 11th Century Poet Mei Yao-Ch’en and I Decide to Seek Out the Yellow Springs, Where All People Who Died a Thousand Years Ago Went; Our Way There is Blocked by a Familiar Quadruped; After That Donuts Don’t Seem a Bad Idea; Sometime Later He Writes Thirty Lines in Honor of the Occasion on the Inside of the Shower Curtain In The Style of Some of His Poems About Paintings of Insects and Plants
Mei Yao-Ch’en and I, Both Approaching Fifty Years of Age Though He Has Been Dead for Nine Hundred and Fifty Two Years, Discuss the Poetics of Getting Older and Apprehending Death, After Which He Wonders How Much of This He Will Remember When He Returns to the 11th Century and Decides to Write to Hsieh Shih-Hou on the Inside of His Robe So He Can Take it With Him Even if Memory Abandons Him, but It Comes Out in the Wash After I Copy It Down, Even In The Gentle Cycle
I Take 11th Century Sung Dynasty Poet Mei Yao-Ch’en with Me On My Daughter Aurora’s School Field Trip to Washington, DC; We Walk on the National Mall and He is Made Uneasy by The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall; Aurora Gets Him a Hot Chocolate at the Refreshment Kiosk by The Lincoln Memorial but This Kindness Reminds Him of His Own Infant Daughter, Whose Death He Was Still Mourning When I Transported Him to the Future at the Age of Forty-Eight; Also, He Does Not Travel Well on the Charter Bus But I Have Smuggled Some Wine Aboard and He Chants These Lines As We Ride, Which Even Untranslated Leave the Teachers and Chaperones Feeling Uneasy
During a Visit to the Doctor, Mei Yao Ch’en and I Discuss the Utility of Fish Tanks With No Fish, After Which We Walk Around the Koi Pond in Gypsy Hill Park, And He Later Writes These Lines and Asks Me to Send Them to His Friend Hsieh Shih-hou, Who He Worries Might Be Wondering About His Whereabouts
Mei Yao-ch’en and I Lament Missing The Lunar Eclipse Because of Rainy Weather, Though We Had Set the Alarm and Rose at Two in the Morning To View It, and What Else Could We Do With Our Time Now That We Were Awake But Drink Wine and Watch the New Maple Leaves Still Only Half Unfolded Bow Up and Down Like Obedient Monks to the Rain, Which In Turn Inspired These Lines By My 11th Century Guest, Written in the Style of a Poem By His Good Friend Ou-yang Hsiu
After Being Introduced to a Cheap California Moscato, My 11th Century Friend Mei Yao-ch’en, Still Visiting Me Here in the 21st Century, Reflects on a Recent Trip in My Ford Explorer Then Insists I Stand in the Back Yard With Him As We Are Soaked in Mist Though The Moscato Tastes No Different For It
Up Late After Trying a Nice Washington State Chardonnay and Forcing Me to Play Him Songs by Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac , Mei Yao-ch’en, Sung Dynasty Poet Still Hanging Around From the 11th Century And Now Enjoying Spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains Though Not Without Some Melancholy, Writes These Lines Which He Says Are About Both Contemporary Poetry and His Regret About Being Parted From His Love, And Thankfully Does Not Include the Phrase “Just Like a White Winged Dove” Which I Was Honestly Afraid He Would For a While There
Showing A Map of the 21st Century World to My Sung Dynasty Friend Mei Yao-ch’en, I Unwittingly Make Him Aware that the Most Famous Chinese Poet Ever Li Po Was Born in What is Now Kyrgyzstan, Not Even a Part of China these Past Thousand Years, After Which We Drink Wine and Chant Couplets from ‘Poems for the Masters’ Until He Quite Suddenly Retires to the Guest Room Upstairs and Writes These Lines and Titles Them ‘Some Lines for a Changed World, Written for Those Who Came Before Me and Those Who Came After Me,’ Which I Tell Him Is Too Long a Title for a Poem These Days
Over Nine Hundred Fifty Years After He Died and Was Buried, Sung Dynasty Poet Mei Yao-ch’en Sits in My Kitchen Drinking Jasmine Tea and Discussing the Ban on Burials in Certain Rural Areas in China, and He Writes the Following Lines as Instruction to His Friend and Relative Hsieh Shih-Hou, Back in the Past
Sitting on a Gentle Grassy Slope in an Historic Graveyard Filled with the Remains of People Born Eight Hundred Years After He Died, Mei Yao-ch’en and I Await Fourth of July Fireworks as Early Summer Fireflies Skid Across the Dimming Air Around Us, And After the Sky Lights Up Between Two Old Pines and We Walk Back Home, My Poet Friend Writes The Following Lines A Few Hours Later with a Sharpie on a Milk Carton While Apparently Raiding the Cupboards for Lucky Charms As the Rest of the House Sleeps
While Some Could Accuse Me of Magical Thinking in Transporting an 11th Century Sung Dynasty Poet to the Shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 21st Century, Nobody Accuses Houdini of Being Anything But the Greatest Escape Artist and Debunker of Spiritual Charlatans, and Somehow These Go Well Together, Though on This Sunday in June Passing Through Scranton Pennsylvania with Mei Yao-ch’en It Happens that the Houdini Museum Is Closed, Leading to a Trip to Dunkin Donuts And Random Thoughts On Magicians, Magic and Mysticism Before We Hit the Road Again, in this Case Interstate 81 Which Far From Being the Silk Road Might Be Called the Tractor Trailer Road, On Which With His Sandaled Feet Up on the Dashboard of the Family Van Mei Conjurs the Following Lines As If Out of Thin Air
By the Banks of the Cape Fear River My 11th Century Poet Friend Mei Yao-ch’en and I Are Joined By A Ghost From My Not-So-Recent and Not-So-Distant Past, And As the Night Lifers on Front Street in Wilmington NC Assume Their Weekend Fictions, The Three of Us Walk Through the Downtown Neighborhoods Back to My Mother-in-Law’s Old Victorian House, Where Ghosts Get Going and A Thousand Year Old Poet Writes the Following Lines on My Beach Towel
Mei Yao-ch’en and the Ghost of Archie Ammons Continue Their Conversation Of The Night Before, Touching Upon Trees and Birds and the Poetics of P’ing-Tan, and Before Lunch My Chinese Poet Friend Composes These Lines as Archie Tries to Pick Flowers With His Ghost Hands for My Mother in Law
11th-Century Sung Dynasty Poet Mei Yao-chen, Whom I Have Transported at the Age of Forty Eight to the 21st Century to Spend Some Time in My Company, Confronts Eyewitness Details of His Eventual Demise Nine Hundred and Fifty Four Years Ago in a Passage in a Book About Him By the Scholar and Translator Jonathan Chaves, and After an Afternoon Spent Carrying Around the Book without Opening It Again, Takes Tea After Dinner and Turns In Early to the Guest Room with My Bottle of Washington State Pinot Gris, There to Apparently Study and Implement Ideas of Emptiness Until Dawn, When He Composes the Following Lines
Mei Yao-chen and I, Neither of Us Quite As Drunk As We’d Wish and Caught in a Late August Storm, Watch Water Run Uphill and Downhill at the Same Time With No Chance of Levelling With Us, and This Phenomenon Is Later Recorded in an Even and Bland Manner by Mei So That It is Easy to Chant and So That He Will Not Forget It When He is Dead

7 thoughts on “Mei Yao-ch’en sequence

  1. Pingback: Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en) | O at the Edges

  2. Pingback: Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en) | O at the Edges

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      I published them in a limited edition book. Since that book is now sold out and it may be a while before I get to the trade edition, I do plan on putting these poems back in circulation on the site. I’ll let you know when they’re back online.

      Reply
      1. Harry Miller

        Please do. I’ve been on the verge of writing off Chinese poetry (in translation) for some time. It looks like you’ve managed to do some very original things with it.

      2. Jeff Schwaner Post author

        To be clear, this sequence consists of poems I imagine that Sheng-yu might have written had he been transported at age 48 to the year 2014 to live in my household for a year. Though I do translate a poem of Mei’s in the book (and I think several versions of that are on the site somewhere), the poems in the sequence are not translations of any specific Mei Yao-ch’en poems, though his poems are referenced. But I’m happy to show them to you.

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