From Pirene's Fountain, January 2009, v.2:4.
Reading Tu Fu in Translation in a Restaurant
—For Tu Fu, a poet of the T'ang Dynasty (712–770)
in the afternoon clatter, I read
what it was to be you, your spared words.
my present becomes yours
you, living again, all the way into now.
your idea of heaven
speeds past all the long pasts
to this desert's spring heat, edging
toward the shatter and sear
of another endless cloudless noon.
you don't know me, Tu Fu,
dropping by this restaurant for rice,
struggling for faith
that a presence
in ink on paper is worthy,
that my telling this moment
of writing you is something,
telling that you meant
your long gone thoughts,
while unknotting the trail
covered by humid moss forest,
telling that we can't see the next turn.
I am trying to know what
might be breathed across
between us, two never-readers
of each others' languages.
Yes, I'm telling at least this page,
without your knowing anything
—no, something—happened here
because you wrote,
thinking of pine & bough,
the vein-emptying loneliness, your son
& the woman you never mention,
you thinking sun on water,
thinking dangerous!, thinking
walking for ten years is wearing,
thinking up this steep, past orchids & rock.
Tu Fu, you still give your effortless
body, your words, without
our ever touching eyes
across tea and egg drop soup.
What I remember of Alan, besides the muscles
and his lisp? ––He gave me
Antelope, an oil that craved
my use. Its fawn box bears
my son's penciled sun with squiggled
rays and intersecting line, his thorny
thin clouds. I love, then and now,
thinking he was sweet and thin,
mischiefing some minutes of morning.
Decades later, with only a few to come,
I open my tight sealed chest
of tiny bottles, choose one, to try
its brandied ichor. My own, so much older
finger covers the same tiny hole
to tip the flask, touch
a drop to the cup
of my throat, the underside
of wrists. From there to here
is long as searing winter seems.
My Cabouchard, a blessed afterthought,
on a mini-skirted, four-inch-heeled June
in Paris: the '20s
postcards in the Left Bank
bookstalls, Mattises in The Pompideau,
—Moon under clouds!—when Cabouchard
was a hint of slightly opened lips
with whirring, vibrant wings.
My Opium? I saved it for
those second times, when what you do
is hope, but nothing's sure.
After fifty, what is for us is Venus retrograde
without a Mars to spin it forward,
but memory's the Nessun Dorma
from Pavarotti's thin-lipped, wide screen
mouth. I go in groups, Cinzano y limón
flavoring the wit that women like,
some dazzling bursts, the pungent oils of marinier
and orange rind tucked quick inside a gift
of lebküchen and tea, and, remembering, I know
each bit's another kiss slipped in to wake me.