To The Translator

Resurrect me
Find me
If only because I was a poet
Awaiting you in my own kind of Then,
Leaving both prose and nonsense far behind me
Resurrect me
I want to live it all again

Thought

To hold a smoldering cigarette
One evening in an old friend's house
And know though loved that you stand yet
In the universe anonymous,

The grand old twang of his guitar
Is not so different from a lyre.
It were no evil, but no good
To finish in a ball of fire.

San Francisco, 1987

He has become a different type of man
Now that the plague assaults him, friend by friend,
Finding resolve in each shake of a hand
To battle the immune cell to the end.

He does not like that statue's Greek physique
These days, its contours just lifelike enough
To be the man he visited last week,
Two years ago a swaggerer in love.

The moments dripping slowly from his life
In spinal taps and blood draws fill his bed
With sweat. Who will there be beside his wife
Alive to sit and talk with of the dead?

What He Said

That day you went the cracks of dawn
That fractured us like porcelain
Ran down your road. You called upon
All things but us to start again.

That day I stayed the autumn fell
Whose ancient, cyclical demise
Could not for worlds of red instill
October in my August eyes.

Your life, I'm sure, has come out well:
Your husband hauls the dollar home,
Your baby has my eyes and Hell
Is freezing over in your own.

So Long

So much there is beyond the sweep of things
You understand — roses that do not care
That you care for their colors. Evening wrings
From someone else's mind a different air
Than aught you could conceive of even breathing.
You do not know that Lethe has been seething
With memories of god knows who or what.
It is a matter of knowing in your gut
How much the brain has sheltered you from dream
To keep your world perfect as a rhyme
You don't quite like to hear. Some have to scream
For words to mean one breath. Don't ask me why.
If all men do is breathe, eyes merely see
This does not live. You can let it be.


Funny Thing about Chinese Poetry

The funny thing about reading modern Chinese poetry:

The more learned, erudite and recondite the language gets, the easier it is for me to understand and to appreciate. The layer of cultural resonance that draws on classical references, on phrases drawn from or patterned off of medieval poetry, on images reaching back hundreds of years for their associations: this is all easily assimilable to me and really, really enjoyable. Whereas the more colloquial, and plainspoken the poet gets, the more impenetrable I find it. Poems that imitate conversational style just wind up as lexicographical exercise, where I try to determine subtext in a language which I have no experience with, no emotional resonance with, and only read by accident.

Wang Anshi on Allusion

"Poetry suffers from overplus of allusions. The problem is when poets choose only those allusions corresponding to the subject of their poem, arranging them according to category, as if they were collating references by subject matter. Even if they do a good job, what's the point? If however one can imbue an allusion with one's own meaning, borrowing from an ancient event to express fresh intent, then any amount of allusions may be used without detracting from the poem."

詩家病使事太多,蓋皆取其與題合者類之,如此乃是編事,雖工何益?若能自出己意,借事以相發明,情態畢出,則用事雖多,亦何所妨

-Wáng Ānshí, quoted in Cài Jūhòu's "Remarks on Poetry", tr. Yours Truly