Peach Blossom (after Li Po)

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Another adaptation…

Peach Blossom

Ask why I stay on the green mountain
and I smile but do not answer; my heart rests.
A peach blossom floats downstream –
Heaven and earth, apart from this world.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com is as follows:

Ask me what reason stay green mountain
Smile but not answer heart self idle
Peach blossom flow water far go
Apart have heaven earth in human world

There the poem is titled “Question and Answer on the Mountain.”

Note: an alternative reading of the last line is “apart from” the human world.

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Shutters (another oldie)

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Shutters

The apparent confinement, revealing
one’s body carried aloft,
or another’s, receding,

flows into the horizontal
and earns a new approach: torsos
divided and become

ornamental, forms varying so
as to relieve the eye, and
in the end, deceive.

In this place darkness blesses all.

This was the first of a series of twelve pieces written at a desk in front of a shuttered window. I was taken with how a simple adjustment of the slats affected perception – that what I saw was only a disjointed portion of what there was to see. The series originally appeared in the anthology Terra Firma.

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2,000 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (and I still can’t resist)

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The subject of Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated, these four lines have not suffered from lack of translation. Gary Snyder’s rendition is beautiful – some might say perfect – as is Burton Watson’s. And then there’s Octavio Paz’s version. Yet I persist…

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com (which differs from that offered by Eliot Weinberger):

Empty hill not see person
Yet hear person voice sound
Return scene enter deep forest
Duplicate light green moss on

And my take:

Deer Sanctuary

There’s no one on this empty hill,
but I hear someone talking.
Sunlight trickles into the forest,
reflecting onto the green moss.

Time and again Weinberger objects to an explicit first person observer, but to my ear it flows better. I’ve tried to retain a sense of precision in observation and at least a hint of duality, and believe that I’ve succeeded, at least in part. Having carried this poem with me for more than two decades, only now have I felt up to the task (or at least approaching it). I chose the title “Deer Sanctuary,” because in my neck of the woods spaces enclosed by “game fences” are generally meant for hunting. We Texans do love our venison. But the poem, to me, is ultimately peaceful. Hence my title.

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Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

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Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

Among falling devilwood blossoms, I lie
on an empty hill this calm spring night.
The moon lunges above the hill, scaring the birds,
but they’re never quiet in this spring canyon.

Another try at an old favorite…

I consider this adaptation rather than translation, but perhaps appropriation or even remaking might be more accurate.

Here’s the transliteration from chinese-poems.com:

Person idle osmanthus flower fall
Night quiet spring hill empty
Moon out startle hill birds
Constant call spring ravine in

So many choices, none of them exactly right, none of them entirely wrong. How does one imply idleness, what words to use for “flower” (blossom? petal?), or for that matter, “fall” (descend, flutter, spiral)? And how to describe a moonrise that scares the constantly calling birds? My first attempt began:

“I lie among the falling petals”

but it seemed vague. The word “osmanthus” fattened my tongue, or so it felt, but the osmanthus americanus, otherwise known as devilwood or wild olive, grows in parts of Texas. So I brought the poem closer to home.

I considered naming the birds (quail came to mind) but decided against. In this case the specificity felt somehow intrusive.

My hope is that I’ve managed to amplify, in some small way, previous iterations, and that while the edges are still a bit blurred in morning’s first light, perhaps they’ll become slightly crisper by the evening.

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3 Poems in Boston Review’s National Poetry Month (2014)

I am delighted that three of my poems are included in Boston Review’s National Poetry Month Celebration:

http://www.bostonreview.net/poetry/npm14-robert-okaji-three-poems

This calls for a toast:

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No, no, not that. This:

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Cheers!