Untitled from 1988


This first appeared in 1988, in Aileron. At the time I was experimenting with movement and breath and line, and wrote quite a few of these meditations in this form, some more successful than others.

where breath begins
it ends consider
light its secret

structure the sense
of limit defined
if a hand

recalls what the
eye cannot which
is the source

of remembrance one
touches more deeply
or allows itself

to be touched
a difference only
in the approach


In Praise of Time


In Praise of Time

We marvel that so much
produces only
more of the same,

increased yet
diminished, no two
alike yet never

differing, earth to
soil, glacier to rain,
stardust to morning,

open, filled, wasted,
lost, killing, preserving,
making more, wanting.


Another Farewell (after Wang Wei)


Another Farewell (after Wang Wei)

We pause at the hill to say goodbye
and I close the willow gate
as dusk falls.

The grass will turn green again
next spring, but will you,
my friend, see its return?

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Hill at mutual escort stop
Day dusk shut wood door
Spring grass next year green
Prince offspring return not return

I’ve taken a few liberties, chief among them employing “willow” rather than wood, for its specificity and for its cultural significance (broken willow symbolizing departure). A little knowledge is dangerous…but I believe it works here.

kalnik 037

Stone Path (after Tu Mu)


Stone Path (after Tu Mu)

High up the cold mountain a stone path rises
to the village in the white clouds.
I stop the carriage and inhale the evening fragrance,
its red, frosted maple leaves richer than any spring flower.

I may have inserted a bit more of myself into this adaptation than is my usual custom. I hope it does not intrude.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Far on cold mountain stone path slant
White cloud live place be households
Stop carriage because love maple forest evening
Frost leaf red than second month flower


Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon [#FullMoonSocial2014]


Written in response to Jeff Schwaner’s invitation to this evening’s Full Moon Social Party. I’m kicking off the festivities by pairing the poem with a glass of chilly Jaume Serra Cava, accompanied by a tad of Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog soft-ripening goat cheese on a slice of crusty baguette, with a handful of grapes and almonds. Cheers!

Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon
– for Lissa

Tilt your head and laugh
until the night bends
and I see only you.

Weave the wind into song.
Rub its fabric over your skin.
For whom does it speak?

Remove all stars and streetlights.
Remove thought, remove voice.
Remove me. But do not remove yourself.

Tear the clouds into threads
and place them in layered circles.
Then breathe slowly into my ear.

Drink deeply. Raise your eyes to the brightness
above the cedars. Observe their motion
through the empty glass. Repeat.

Talk music to me. Talk conspiracies
and food and dogs and rain. Do this
under the wild night sky.

Harvest red pollen from the trees.
Cast it about the room
and look through the haze.

From the bed, gaze into the mirror.
The reflection you see is the darkness
absorbing your glow.

Fold the light around us, and listen.
You are the moon in whose waters
I would gladly drown.


Visit Jeff’s blog, Translations from the English, at http://jeffschwaner.com/

WordPress tag: fullmoonsocial2014

On Parting (after Tu Mu)


On Parting (after Tu Mu)

This much fondness numbs me.
I ache behind my drink, and cannot smile.
The candle too, hates parting,
and drips tears for us at dawn.

A non-poet friend asked why I’m dabbling in these adaptations. After all, she said, they’ve already been translated. Why do you breathe, I replied, admittedly a dissatisfying, snarky and evasive answer. So I thought about it. Why, indeed. The usual justifications apply: as exercises in diction and rhythm, it’s fun, it’s challenging. But the truth is I love these poems, these poets, and working through the pieces allows me to inhabit the poems in a way I can’t by simply reading them. And there is a hope, however feeble, of adding to the conversation a slight nuance or a bit of texture without detracting from or eroding the original.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Much feeling but seem all without feeling
Think feel glass before smile not develop
Candle have heart too reluctant to part
Instead person shed tear at dawn