Red Cliffs I. – Su Shih

First Prose Poem On The Red Cliffs

In the autumn of 1082, on the 16th of the seventh month, Master Su and his guests sailed in a boat below the Red Cliffs. Clear wind blew gently, the water was calm. The boaters raised their wine and poured for each other, reciting “The Bright Moon” and singing “The Lovely One.”
After a while, the moon rose above the eastern mountain, and hovered between the Dipper and the Cowherd star. White mist lay across the water; the light from the water reached the sky. They went where their tiny boat took them, floating on a thousand leagues of haze, in the vastness as if resting on emptiness and riding the wind, not knowing where they would stop, floating as if they had left the earth and stood alone, having turned into birds and become immortal. And so they drank and their joy reached its height, and they sang beating on the side of the boat. The song went:

Cassia oars and orchid paddles
Beat the illusory moon,
Rowing against the flow of streaming light.
From a great distance my heart
Yearns for my beloved at one end of the sky.

Among the guests there was one who played the flute, and he played along with their song. The sound of his flute mourned, as if grieving as if loving, as if weeping as if reproaching. Its sound echoed and lingered, not breaking as if a silken thread. It set to dancing the dragon submerged in a deep crevice, and brought to tears the widow in the lonely boat.

Master Su sobered himself, and straightening his collar sat upright. He asked the guest: “Why did you play like that?” The guest replied, “‘The moon is bright, the stars, sparse. The crows and magpies fly south,’ aren’t these the words from Cao Cao’s poem? Looking west towards Xiakou, East towards Wuchang, with the mountains and rivers entwining each other, densely green — isn’t this the place where Cao was beseiged by Zhou Yu? Cao had just broken Jingzhou, and was going to Jiangling, sailing west with the flow of the river. His boats prow to stern stretched for a thousand miles, and his flags and banners blocked the sky. Pouring wine, looking down on the river, chanting poems with a spear across his knees, he was indeed a hero of his times; but today, where is he? And how about you and I, fishermen and woodcutters on the islets in the river, taking the fish and shrimp and deer as our companions, and riding in a leaf of a boat, raising gourds as our goblets and drinking to each other? Entrusted like flies to heaven and earth, as tiny as one grain in a vast ocean. I grieve at my life’s shortness, and envy how the Great River is infinite. I want to fly with the immortals and roam the vastness, embrace the moon and live forever. I know that I cannot quickly achieve this, and I entrusted these sounds to the sad wind.”

Master Su said, “Do you know the water and moon? The one flows on, and yet never goes anywhere, and the other waxes and wanes, yet never diminishes or grows. If you look at them from the point of Change, then heaven and earth never stay the same for even the blink of an eye. If you look from the point of what is unchanging, then all things, and I, are inexhaustible, so what is there to envy? Between heaven and earth, each thing has its master, and if it were not mine, even if only a hair, I would not take it. Only the clear wind on the river, and the bright moon between the mountains: the ear receives one and creates sound, the eye meets the other and makes color; you can take these without prohibition, and use them without exhausting them. This is the infinite treasure of the Creator, and what you and I can share and rejoice in.”

The guest was pleased and smiled, they washed the cups and refilled them. All the dishes were finished, and the cups and plates were scattered all over. Pillowing on each other in the middle of the boat, they didn’t see that the sky was already brightening in the east.

Su Shih / Su DongPo
(1057-1101)

Translated by Pauline Chen

Dreams Of The Tang Dynasty #17

#17
We boil spring water to make tea,
Sitting on a grassy knoll above the water.
The waterfall continues as it has always done,
Ten thousand years with little change.
How many lovers have sat as we have,
Happy and content above this spring?
I’m a cautious man,
But this woman’s a water dragon.
She takes off all her clothes,
And leaps in from our heights above.
AD 865

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #10

#10
The first days after the fields are planted,
Peasant families all walk the river bank.
Young boys show off their strength,
Seeing who can climb the tallest trees.
Young girls sit with their mothers,
On bamboo mats in the grass.
Five old men sit on a rotten log,
Drinking cool wine and talking about the past.
All our sorrows and suffering,
Are merely paths to moments like these.
AD849

-龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

Dreams of The Tang Dynasty #2

#2 For XinMei
Her skin is as white and smooth as cream.
Her hair, like a dark storm.
She dances to an old mountain tune
Wearing nothing but a white gauze dress.
The cool air blows in through her open windows
While we drink wine, and I write poems on her thigh.
Her husband is a man of many vices;
Spending all his days in the capitol’s whore houses.
Some nights we weep for the future,
But we shed no tears tonight –
How much longer can we live like this?
At sixteen, naive to the ways of the world,
We made vows of love to each other.
At seventeen, the world’s brutality became real,
Her mother married her off to a fool for money.
AD 842

龙火花 Long HuoHua

Born Approx AD820 – Died AD895
Timeline Of Major Events During Long’s Life:

AD840 – Earliest known poems by Long
841 – Yu XuanJi is Born
846 – Bai JuYi dies
848 – Emperor Wuzong persecutes Buddhists, Shuts down temples across empire.
858 – Major flood killing tens of thousands (including XinMei) and destabilizing dynasty
863 – Long Starts affair with Yu XuanJi
866 – Long gets sent on official duty to Chongqing
867 – Yu XuanJi is Executed
875 – Huang Chao’s Rebellion
881 – Huang Chao Captures Chang’An
883 – Capitol retaken, Huang Chao Rebellion Ends
883 – Tang Dynasty Starts Decline
895 – Long HuoHua Dies
AD907 – Tang Dynasty Falls

An Earthy Consummation of the Love in My Heart

Adderall sunshine lights me up
Before a swift northeastern wind
Cools me under black clouds.
Aqua stains old poems
When Bedouin rain drops
Descend upon us from the dune like cumulus.
The dust and sweat of China
Wash down from the bill of my hat
Mixing in with the Georgia red
Like some earthy consummation
of the love in my heart for both.
Cold curtains wrap around me
Sending a shiver through me.
I was caught up in a poem
When God broke through
With a September ballad of his own,
Emptying the forests of people
With his stormy verse
Leaving it quiet in the aftermath,
Poking holes in the sky
Like punctuation marks
Turning my pages golden in the silence.

December Days Under The Trees

When you get down to it,
Life is two friends
Sitting by a river on a cold day
Reading the words of dead men
And basking in the glory.

………………….

There are times
When your body shakes
From the pulsing blood,
From the conscious thought,
That this is your life.
There is nothing you can do
but shake – mouth open wide
sit and shake and breathe
and be filled with awe,

Under the leafless trees,

Under the setting sun.

………………..

I admire the tree in silence.
The way it clings to the rock
And works its way down into the river
Down into the earth.
I think about the knowledge of man.
All the things that men have told me
about the tree – about botany or biology.
They have said this
They have said that
Words whispered into the air and gone in time.
Knowledge is worthless in comparison to beauty
This tree is magnificent
And that is enough for me.

Flower Petals On The Sleeves

The sky far away
Above cold mountain rocks.
Wild birds
Cry mournfully.

The clouds flow
A thousand miles down the river.

The wanderer’s long sleeves
Are wet from flower petals.
Twilight over a riverside village
Where wine is mellow.

When this night is over,
Flowers will fall in that village.

The heart is sad and tender
to a fault.
The wanderer goes,
Drifting quietly through the moonlight.

– Ji-hoon Cho (Korean Poet)

Sundown Song

It’s when the descending sun
Is level with the curtain hook

That spring along this river
Is at its very best.

Good smells surround the gardens
Along the riverbank

A column of smoke from the beach
Where boatmen cook their dinners

Steadily chattering sparrows
Fight to roost in the evening trees

Gnats and mayflies swarm
In the air of my front yard

Oh cup of cloudy wine
You too are a gift

A sip or two of you dissolves
All my little worries.

-Tu Fu 760’s A.D.

From David Young’ s translation “Du Fu: A Life in Poetry”
Available on Amazon and if you like Tu Fu then I can’t recommend it enough. Best translations since Rexroth.

Manhood

I’ve heard some say,
Some alive, some dead,
That they wished they could be
A wolf, an eagle, or a lion.
But I sit here on this rock,
Blood running strong in my veins,
Under the end of August sun,
A young man,
Free and with the world at my feet,
Tell me,
What more fantastic or wild thing
Could I ever wish to be?

I Have a Blue Blanket

I have a blue blanket
I remember it from my childhood,
It goes with me in a bag
In the trunk of my car
And whenever I cant take
The shit of this world
I lay it down
In the park
Or on the river bank
Or in the field at night
After a wedding
Looking up at the stars
And I breath in deep
And know it will all be alright.

The Prophet and The Wilderness

I watch the people as they pass by my island
Not one stops to look out on the water,
Not one puts even a foot in,
And that’s all fine and well,
But I wonder quite distantly,
What meaning do they find in life?

………

When I am alone in the woods,
I am not alone,
I think of the caves
And canyons and rivers
That Elijah sat in,
Just him and God,
Talking back and forth.
What kind of friendship
Did they form
In those desolate hours
That made God sweep him
Off the face of the earth
In a chariot of wind and fire.

Sunday Waters

On a Sunday by the water
Only the crickets make sound
And only the dragonflies know I’m here.
I go through my phone
And I realize there’s no one there
But I have my books
And I have my rock
By the old rotten tree
And I have a thousand songs
Memorized in my head,
Now, if only I spoke dragonfly.

…………

River Haiku

This river is like
A woman. She holds my heart
in her throbbing hand.

………….

My bare feet slip on the creekbed.
The water is the perfect temperature
And I’d jump right in
If it weren’t for the books and beer in my backpack.
My feet search cautiously for that foothold
Trying not to slice them right open.
This river’s bed is cruel to lovers too timid,
But she is sweet to my broken modern heart
Which is slowly immersed in her peaceful flow
Washing away all the trivial worries in my life
And I know now
Why God set aside a day of rest
And I thank him for this loyal friend
This wondrous river.

The World and All Its Petty Offerings

I bask in this simple pleasure
As I have done so many times before.
A cup of earthy tea in my hand
On a patio built forty years ago,
But it is almost as though
It were built for me.
As though this moment were set aside,
Ordained,
A gift.
Vibrant energetic life all around,
Bright, lush, green trees,
Bugs and bees,
The sun making all things shine
And a little bird singing
Just above my head.
Tell me
What in the world
And all its petty offerings
Could compare to this?

If It Could Just Be You and I

Too many people.
People People People.
I wish I lived a hundred years ago

Just you and I

And a piece of land out west.
I’d work some simple trade
A woodsman maybe
And on the weekends,
In the hot months
We’d lie naked together
Next to the river

Just you and I

Content in the cool breeze
Your body glistening in the sun
Your dark eyes
Big, beautiful, and wild with summer
Your lips, wet with wine,
And only the birds for company.

The Girl on the Rocks

I picture you…
Out on the hot rocks
Of a secluded canyon river
Shaded by the trees
And Promontories.
Your dress clinging loosely
To the curves of your body.
Your hair wrapping
Around the corners of your face
And sticking to your cheeks
From the heat
And the waterfall’s spray
Swirling up into the air
And resting lightly on your skin.
The water,
It sings to us,
And I long to touch you
And your wet black hair,
And to run my hands up your legs
And to kiss your mouth,
But this is just a picture.
I sit all alone,
With you,
Hundreds of miles away.

Pulled From The Sea

The bird chirps its worship song
The bird chirps its worship song.
The bamboo knocks together,
A living wind chime.
I drink my black tea
Hot and earthy.
It tastes like the goodness
God spoke of when He
Pulled the land out of the sea,
I sit,
Quietly awestruck.

Some people
Some people,
Are like the fish
Which swam over the waterfall.
They will never find home again.

Desolation
Play your flute Shigeru,
Strum those strings,
With your eastern hunger for truth,
And your eastern sorrow for not finding any.

Chinese Christians
What might it be like
To meet God
After six thousand years
Of atheism.

Help me remember
Help me remember
Your love.
Help me remember
The sweetness
Of Your water.
Help me remember
The invigorating joy
Of walking in your light.

The Signature of All Things (excerpt) Kenneth Rexroth

My head and shoulders, and my book
In the cool shade, and my body
Stretched bathing in the sun, I lie
Reading beside the waterfall —
Boehme’s “Signature of all Things.”
Through the deep July day the leaves
Of the laurel, all the colors
Of gold, spin down through the moving
Deep laurel shade all day. They float
On the mirrored sky and forest
For a while, and then, still slowly
Spinning, sink through the crystal deep
Of the pool to its leaf gold floor.
The saint saw the world as streaming
In the electrolysis of love.
I put him by and gaze through shade
Folded into shade of slender
Laurel trunks and leaves filled with sun.
The wren broods in her moss domed nest.
A newt struggles with a white moth
Drowning in the pool. The hawks scream,
Playing together on the ceiling
Of heaven. The long hours go by.
I think of those who have loved me,
Of all the mountains I have climbed,
Of all the seas I have swum in.
The evil of the world sinks.
My own sin and trouble fall away
Like Christian’s bundle, and I watch
My forty summers fall like falling
Leaves and falling water held
Eternally in summer air.

-Kenneth Rexroth

Time

Time flows through me like water
carrying my life away slowly
I dissolve cell by cell
In its electric joy.

Billions gone
Were as we are now
Worried about the trivialities
That worry all of us.

I sit – with a cup of hot tea
Music soaked and warm on a cloudy winter day
Looking out through my window
Toward my river, through the trees.

A day like a million others.
So cliche and yet
So uniquely mine
Beauty is in the sublime

Love and this Great Big River

Why all the  confusion
About love today?
I watch an old man
With a smile on his face,
Taking photographs of his wife
As she feeds the geese.
She laughs and shakes
Her head self consciously.
Are they any different than you and I?
Besides the fact that they chose
To love – when love was hard,
To smile – when they both were weary,
And to hold hands and pray
When all the world
Was trying to tear them apart.

…..

I watch a young couple
Walk up to the edge of the water
Arm in arm,
Hand in hand,
Joyful but unable
To endure the cold.
They don’t stay long.
I wonder
Do they have it in them,
To give up their dreams
For one another?
Do they have the courage,
To endure harsher things,
And create a new dream together?
Where will they stand
Years from now,
And will they still stand,
Hand in hand?

…..

The geese know love.
Love gave them the web’s on their feet.
Love gave them their powerful wings,
Love built them to float joyfully,
In elegance and peace
Upon the water.

The geese know love,

I can hear their ugly, joyful, little song.
And one day,
When they finally die,
Love will take them back
From whence they came,
Back into a big blue sky.

How Much Of It Is Vanity

How much of writing is vanity?
How much of it is bullshit?
Which is from experience
And which is pulled from the sky?
How much of writing
Is the gravel burning blisters on your feet
How much of it
Is the stars above the water at 3AM
Or the dark eyed angel in your bed
Or the hot tea cooking your tongue
Or that deep and weary sigh
At the thought of going in to work
When the sun still has hours left in the sky
And the river still pulls lovingly at your feet