After Nearly Fifty Years I Return To The Beans In Kenneth Rexroth’s Translation
of Ou Yang Hsiu’s Jade Plum Trees in Spring
And Write This Poem With The Quill Of A Swan
Though a simile for the ripe green jade plums and the poem
really about lazy sex in the hot afternoon a thousand years ago
the eyes of the figurehead of my heart the Black Madonna
not once strayed from those fragrant bean fields in the lowlands
because my teacher in the mountains answered—Yes Mother Nature
is beautiful when a swan trapped by ice in the frozen pond is eaten
alive by the mother fox terribly beautiful and it is never finished.
Horses whinny by the river and a dog’s skull whistles.
Ou Yang Hsiu (1007-1072 c.e.) One Hundred Poems from the Chinese (1971) Kenneth Rexroth, pg. 54
So many steps into confusion utter clarity seems familiar.
I must be getting somewhere.
August heroes fall twenty by twenty
I fell on my sword for one misplaced heroic ideal after another.
The dime I turned on
eye to eye with a jaguar—jaw like a Mack truck
grave as Abraham Lincoln
mind plain to read—
I know how much you are I know if you kiss dogs.
I have been cut with a knife—
I have cut with a knife.
My father gave me a combat blade
when I was nine years old—
It’s always loaded and won’t jam.
Later the blade sheathed
and I said to a woman that her cutting scars
might be hieroglyphs—a record—
traced the ropy lines with my fingertip
and she saying—I can’t bear to—
drew thorns from our eyes.
I hope you will come with me to where I stand
often sleeping and waking
by the patient water
that has no father nor mother
It was when my fingers stopped digging
into my palms and unfurled—
feelings always seeing somewhere far beyond my
through the deaths
no language for—
no more aware than a blade of grass
sunlight touches the tip of and it reaches.
At ten years fist-fighting through every schoolboy
in my way hiding nights in the forest
something found in Grapes of Wrath
and I taught a few boys the word
shitheels but never told them
about Rose of Sharon.
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world
Little black and yellow
you make the dying juniper pretty.
you take my fears for a wild ride
winking your brown wing-eyes so fast.
Through your branches and flowers
a gyral turkey buzzard.
W.S. Merwin The Moon Before Morning (2014) pg 62
Startled By The Mind In Merwin’s Couplet—
what we see again will come to us in secret
and without even knowing that we are here
It was a bronze afternoon coming
again to the lit window in his absence—
a slant of the sun he recalls I say
welcomed to glint again in his ashes
shimmering into the shimmering river
disappearing in the shadows
under the willows on his way to the sea
as the light flies in its beam through
the sandy water stippling the backs
of fishes and the smooth mother rock.
W.S Merwin The Moon Before Morning (2014) “Long Afternoon Light” pg. 88
Some years seem to be searching
and raise an eyebrow in my direction—
perhaps a message from my youth
or an ancestor even pre-human
or from Stephen Hawking’s favorite unknown
one mile north of the north pole
asking a lot of the ears
as in translating the language of dry wind
in the voice of pine
versus the many-tongued sycamore.
I was born confused by here versus there
known versus unknown and versus.
Say—All the years already gathered and present.
Say—Bushy tailed anteaters will dust the bottom of the sea.
My father was weepy and fisted without tells
my mother’s soft queries impaled.
All the years wear ashes on their heads
like the crows, robins, and fox sparrows.
—You’re not so far away after all.
—Neither are you.
We’re idling on the west bank of the Mississippi—
a presence that is the important one.
Of the landscape we sit in deep communion
as a series of images flow by—
doing my chores in a strange family’s house with their things
as they sit at table talking of people unknown to me
and shoveling load after load of snow into a wheelbarrow
in high summer at my father’s house.
I drift awake
and say back into the dream to my renowned
old friend by the river—
It would be like my favorite cat
killing and eating my favorite bird
but the cleverness makes me sick hearted.
A dust mote of lit joy at the bottom of the sea.
A hot ground breeze
stirs the white oleander—
hiding in its core shadows
the scrub jay asks.
Becalmed pines will not sway
their nestling hawks.
Late afternoon arrives
pierced by green hummingbirds.
How can I say that I’m a recluse?
I have been broken
and I have broken.
On clear nights
I search for The Swan.