Reflecting on the Visit to the Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum

To think he might have held this pot, this bowl,
to feel the site suffused with the poet’s soul,
to imagine him seated peacefully
composing a poem or taking a stroll,
to see him pacing within his bedroom walls,
poverty afflicting his family,
ah, to read of the great poets in the hall…
The thatched cottage and my blooming reverie
drew me away from the thought of you –
you who are alive and my age, whose art
sheds light on my own, a beggar’s heart…
While you have your darknesses, to be sure,
I can imagine the dead as I desire,
as a greatness I don’t have to endure,
as greatness that nods at my little fire…

Little Girl on a Summer Afternoon

Little girl, you were led
into the teachers’ room
by one with hurried footsteps
at duty’s beck and call.

It was a summer afternoon.
The teachers were getting ready to leave.
You stood by the open door.
Caught sight of me with my headphones
drawn into the computer screen.

You called: “Yasha!”
And said: “You are beautiful.”
To my surprise I responded with:
“I love you.”

“beautiful”, “love”, as spoiled, overused
as they are, as seldom used by me,
were the crown of that Friday sun and breeze,
whiter than the frame of the open window…

The teacher and student disappeared.
Teaching English, a trivial affair.
The wanderer’s ache, wretchedness, shame
shrunk, slipped away
as we human beings were carried off
by the breeze, brushing by
the bronze statue of King Sejong,
swept toward the cloudless sky…

Mastery of the Word

By means of it I found a way
to navigate through my many nights,
to celebrate what I took to be
the laudatory and the lights
in others; I found a way
to organize the succession of moments
that sang themselves into each day;
I managed by its means to keep at bay
the anger others may have had toward me
were I inept in what I had to say,
unguarded in what was best left unsaid.
I said you were the moon’s fine friend,
that you were good company, along with wine,
while hoping you’d see the sign
that I’d rather be alone with my book,
relish alone the moon’s pristine look…
With its help I averted my face
from countless feelings armed with thought.
With its help, its poetic embrace,
perfume of praise, wheels well greased,
I quickly slipped by the beast…
In short, my mastery of the word
gave birth, it seems, to so many dreams,
to so many lies wrapped in pleasant gleams…

Long Denied

The whole house now
is blanketed with sleep.
Stacks of paper on her desk.
Stack of plates on the kitchen counter.
She stands by her bedroom window.
The cuckoo’s call
reaches into her many dreams,
resounds, as a reflection
that’s been long denied,
all the valleys of herself
still unvisited, long denied,
with a frailty wrapped in fog
of which she’d never tell.
She feels, she knows
she’ll go downstairs soon
to clean up, to meet the morning
as a part played all too well,
the responsible woman and wife
heaped with success, praise – with some
even envying her life.

How Beautiful

How beautiful it is to be on this bed.
How beautiful
is the lightly tapping curtain
and moonlight on the floor, the night,
and more beautiful still
is the mind
at this moment
naked of wondering, expecting, planning,
naked of wanting.
Mandala after mandala made of angels,
planets like so many children’s marbles,
asteroids, meteors so much mellifluous verse,
nebulae-nests resting in my hand –
all these appear and disappear
as the faces of peace.
So many realms,
so many dimensions
a deepening peace serves,
surpassing the finest artistic skill,
that none deserves,
that needs no work or will.

On the Child’s Return

It was true, child, even back then.
Before the children of time, you are,
before outer space and every star.
But the truth would have done you no good.
Had you not left this house, journeyed far,
had you not wandered and flailed about,
had you not been the prey of doubt,
had you not known the lover’s vortex and kiss,
roses gathered, crutch leaning against a wall,
this would not have been your wine and bread,
dormancy yours, and a gray grayer than dead.
Truth isn’t enough. Your timidity in youth
might have misused or distorted this truth,
your bedroom and blinds turned to a womb.
Or you may have only thought you were All,
the thought building yet another wall.
But your celebrations, sorrows,
your falling, feasting, laughing, crying, going on to be broken
have become the bouquet of what can’t be spoken.

Unobstructed

He had been hurt, as all are.
Much that others did befuddled him.
Yet however much was done, however far
he journeyed, he felt they were a star
galaxies away – or held books unread, unseen,
however negligent they were, or mean.
Some of his friends thought him unaware,
naive, too trusting, with too much care.
Yet as he lay dying – a little too young –
the face of death had mirrored his heart:
for all his turbulences, some regret and fear,
because he had withheld judgements, or tried to,
death proportionately withheld judgements too,
his way upward unobstructed and clear.