“Reading T’ang (China 618-907) poetry
while on vacation in Florida”
living for a time
an abbreviated life
with a few items in a suitcase
--what’s the minimum I need to be me?
we drag along cell phones, laptops, all manner of electronic gear to keep in touch
my parents grow older
and stumble at propping each other up
we all learn only awkwardly to deal with our ages,
moving into adulthood and beyond
"With age I am growing too lazy to write verses
And now old age is my only company
In a past life I was mistakenly a poet
In a former life I must have been a painter…."
Wang Wei, “Lines,’ Robinson 140
I buy the paper only a day or two
the government continues its work at some distance
trying to avoid default
"You followed your destiny and came to live in the capital;
The journey here must have seemed a dream.
Now you’re going far off, where the East Sea floats in the sky…"
Qian Qi (722?-780?) “Seeing off a Buddhist monk going back to Japan”
T’ang poetry is mostly about travel and farewell,
drinking with a friend who will leave the next day for a post,
whom you might not meet again for a year, or ten years, or never
"For old friends separated by the rivers and the seas,
Kept apart more than once by mountains and streams,
It seems oddly like a dream to meet suddenly again,
Each of us asking in sorrow, ’How old are you now?’"
“Staying overnight in YungYang rest house in the company of Han Shen, then leaving him in the morning”
we each made CDs of our favorite music
to play in the rented car (packing the minimum we need to be us)
mine is old time musicians
playing scratchy blues in makeshift recording studios,
having no idea of their music on computers
playing digitally on Florida highways,
yet in those long ago hotel rooms
making music as though they knew
"Having a reputation that lasts thousands of years
Is a lonely business if you acquire it after you are dead."
Du Fu (712-770) “Dreaming of Li Bai ,” 41
gliding through the mangrove swamp
I lose my hat in the water,
my daughter retrieves it nimbly with her paddle
my son rents a bicycle, then another,
pedals past alligators and sawgrass
manatees, dolphins bubble to the top
distant storms bring waves, algae, murk, cold currents among the warm,
we struggle to keep upright
mosquitos have feasted on us
my daughter chases the toads at night
out seeking their dinner in the darkness
my wife knows the rhythms of this place
we have been coming for twenty years
sometimes taken for natives
sometimes we are laden with all that we can carry to the beach,
sometimes it is just to look and miss
not a rustle not a creature
the conches scoot along on the floor of the Gulf
we find them with our feet
and lift them out—
they extend their eyes out their shells on slender stalks
and flip themselves off our palms
back into the water
I stick shells in my pockets
maybe I’ll find them next year
looking to bid farewell to the manatee,
we hear a rustling behind us and are surprised by an armadillo
who is surprised by us
I carry pastels down to the beach
and paint long thin pictures of the sea and sky
I blend the colors with my fingers
checking to see which is stained blue for the sky
which the beach, which is ocean
"Slender clouds. On the pavilion a small rain.
Noon, but I’m too lazy to open the far cloister.
I sit looking at moss so green
My clothes are soaked with color."
Wang Wei, “Sketching Things”
we buy food in small quantities
bug spray suntan lotion
get on each others’ nerves in shared rooms
the trees are different, the smells exotic,
we suit up to baste in the heat and the sound and the feel of it
"When I came to a mountain stream
I walked barefoot on its stones,
The water splashing noisily, my gown
Billowing in the wind.
Life is just so easy to love
when it is like this,
Without the need to be kept in check,
And under others’ control.
How, oh how can my little group
of trusty friends and I
Get to reach old age and not
Come back to this again!"
Han Yu (768-824), “The rocks on the mountains”