China Poems, 2010
The Lone White Gull (after Du Fu)
Each time I travel, it is like a death.
I die into a self I do not know.
My alien sinuses transform each breath
Into a sign of passage: time to go.
Smoggy Beijing is almost through with spring.
The hotel garden droops, the flowers have fallen,
The recent rains have wetted everything,
The sodden petals drown amid their pollen.
And is this more than travel-melancholy?
Du Fu’s old scholar, between earth and sky,
Knew all that striving, all that grief and folly
To be an education how to die.
Trapped and Free
Among these glyphs I am a child again.
I am compelled to give up all control.
I cannot drive, or speak; as if my brain
Were now the only freehold of my soul.
And so I must endure the help of others,
And let these open-hearted Chinese in,
Believe the cliché that all men are brothers,
Feel the new shapes, smells, sounds beneath my skin.
Even the illness and humiliation
Comes as a kind of gift to this old man
Whose stiffening decades of habituation
Make me as numb and willful as they can.
My needfulness has opened what was closed.
My loneliness has started a new story;
For in my state of weakness, lost, exposed,
Grace strangely turns an idle hour to glory:
The commune windows shine with pinkish light,
Tiny green gardens take up every space,
Dongqing is coming by—so young, so bright,
With all of ancient China in his face;
And I will open up my door for him,
And he will cook us herb-stew as if we
Were two old sages of another time,
Drinking rice wine and quoting poetry.
At the Edge of the Apartment Complex
The cuckoo calls across this small ravine.
Two motor-scooters lean against a wall.
The fern fronds on the cliff are brilliant green.
Two Chinese voices rise and fall.
I think of Doctor Gachet’s garden, where
Poor sick van Gogh painted the sun-baked flowers:
Did he too, after all that anxious care,
Find peace among the sky-blue idle hours?
The Butterfly’s Love for the Flower
by Wang Dongqing
(translation by Frederick Turner)
Wild tumbled clouds sweep through the sky,
the blustering storm winds blow,
Pear blossoms speckle, damp with rain,
the spring world, turned to softness with their glow;
The chilly rain can’t know their pain
who, parted, grieve alone;
Rain’s stripped a thousand petals from
the thin twigs, naked now.
A double wrinkle aches between
her eyebrows clenched with woe;
She goes upstairs and seeks to pierce
where the far windswept road’s horizons go.
“When will this yearning ever end?”
but answer there is none;
The floating willow-flowers die,
the waters softly flow.
At Home in China
The wood-doves call around the mossy cliffs;
A vendor calls, wheeling a bicycle;
The air is full of quiet hieroglyphs;
Life once again becomes a miracle.
Toddlers with oblong faces, creamy cheeks,
Ride plastic seesaws in the little park.
A woman from an open window speaks
A last word to a frail old patriarch.
I saunter down the pavement to the store,
A strange white giant smiling a “Nihao”;
Where have I seen all these sweet things before?
An old man still can be at home in Now.