Dear Daniel: How fortunate we are to tap into this medium of ether
and zeros and ones and all the combinations employed in our paperless
context. I am drawn to the concept of text as textile, as an entity
woven into the fabric of communication. Who knew that simple lines,
dots, dashes and squiggles would someday depict so well our
abstract beginnings and fingered desires, from counted goats and
jars of oil to the tattoo on a beloved’s inner thigh. The gap between
thought and graphic representation, whether on paper or glowing
screen, seems heightened these days, in spite of their ubiquitous
presences. I scratched my name onto the frozen creek’s surface,
only to watch it subsume as the mercury rose. I report this only
because you’ve scribed too well that feeling of treading on uncertain
surfaces, of words expanding in meaning and dragging us along
separate byways, fork into fork, under and through what we
never considered. That is our fate – to emerge from the pocket,
folded, wrinkled and smudged, smelling of makkoli and fish
markets and unwritten phrases stored in rice jars, our personal
creases expanding as we inspect the characters found there, some
crimped, others elongated, still others nearly invisible but apparent
through indentation. Translate these and what have you but a history
of glorious failures and unfelt victories in marks, on white,
somehow of note, if only to oneself. Success is a stranger’s smile,
an omelet cooked to order and eaten with gusto. It pulses
in the doing, in the unsteady drip from the faucet with a desiccated washer, and the ink staining the page symbol by line. I know only what I know, which ain’t much, but I keep trying to learn, to
cobble together these odd symbols into assemblages greater than
myself. As if anyone would notice. Say hello to the marred, the
cracked and disheveled of Jeju, and I’ll return the favor from
my hideaway in the Texas hills. As always, believe. Bob.
“Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket” first appeared on Vox Populi in July 2018. I am grateful to Michael Simms for publishing this piece (and others).
The boat carries the honored guest
so regally across the lake.
We look out over the railing and sip our wine.
Lotus blossoms, everywhere.
As is nearly always the case, I had more questions then answers when I first considered this adaptation, beginning with “what is happening here?” Yes, someone crosses a lake to meet a guest, they drink wine and see flowers in the water. But what does this signify? From my 21st century Texan viewpoint, the poem seems to be a piece about spiritual passage, and I colored my version with this in mind, using visual references to capitalize on and support the theme – crossing a body of water, looking outward, and of course, observing the lotus flowers, which hold great symbolism in Chinese and Buddhist culture.
The Chinese-poems.com transliteration:
Small barge go to meet honoured guest
Leisurely lake on come
At railing face cup alcohol
On all sides lotus bloom
This first appeared on the blog in November 2014. My, how time has passed.
Five White cat always made sure
no rats gnawed my books,
but this morning Five White died.
On the river I offered up rice and fish,
and buried you in its lazy currents,
chanting my lament. I could never neglect you.
One time you caught a rat
and carried it squealing around the yard
to frighten all the other rats
and keep my cottage clear of them.
We’ve shared space aboard this boat,
and although the food is meager
it’s free of rat piss and droppings
because you were so diligent,
more so than any chicken or pig.
Some people speak highly of horses,
saying nothing compares to them or donkeys.
But we’re done with that discussion!
My tears prove it so.
* * *
The transliteration from Chinese-poems.com:
Self have 5 white cat
Rat not invade my books
Today morning 5 white die
Sacrifice with rice and fish
See off it at middle river
Incantation you not you neglect
Before you bite one rat
Hold in mouth cry around yard remove
Want cause crowd rat frightened
Thought will clear my cottage
From board boat come
Boat in together room live
Dry grain although its thin
Evade eat drip steal from
This real you have industriousness
Have industriousness surpass chicken pig
Ordinary person stress spur horse drive
Say not like horse donkey
Already finish not again discuss
For you somewhat cry
A Song Dynasty poet, Mei Yao-ch’en (or Mei Yaochen) died in 1060. His great poems live on.
Quiet end what wait
Day day must go return
Wish seek fragrant grass go
Grieve with old friend separated
On road who mutual help
Understanding friend life this scarce
Only should observe solitude
Again close native area door