Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ancient air #7

ancient air #7

there is an immortal wanderer, riding atop a crane
flying & flying across the High Translucence

he raises his voice in the midst of jade-green clouds
& pronounces his own tranquil name: An Qi

two by two, the jade white children
play music on their violet luan-bird shengs

shadows take flight at once & turn invisible
the wind circles back transporting their heavenly sound

I lift my head to gaze at them in the distance
where they’re floating & they’re flowing like the stars

& I hope to dine on grass of golden light
granting longevity until heaven collapses

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Li Bai:
古風 (七)
gŭ fēng (qī)

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:瑞鶴 (Auspicious Cranes) 1112 (Song Dynasty): handscroll - ink and color on silk.
Public domain

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

seeing off Yuaner on his mission to Anxi

seeing off Yuaner on his mission to Anxi

in Weichang morning rain moistens the light dust:
the inn turns green so green with the fresh willows—
please dear friend drain one more cup of ale: once
west of Yang Pass, you will know no one

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Wang Wei:
sòng Yuán'èr shĭ Ānxī

In the video below, guqin master Yuan Jung-Ping performs a setting of this poem dating to the Song Dynasty. It can’t be stressed often enough that Classical Chinese lyric poetry—like poetry in the Classical & Medieval European traditions—was composed for recital/singing with musical accompaniment. The qin (these days referred to as qugin) was the preferred instrument for this.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
阳关烽火台遗址 (Ruins of a signal tower at Yang Pass) by Wiki user 張骐, who makes the image available under the following licenses:
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Passion Hymn, no. 51

Passion Hymn, no. 51

On Valhús hill
a man is being crucified.
And people buy themselves a ride
by bus
to watch him.

It is sunny and warm ,
and the sea is flat and blue.

This is a pretty man
with a high forehead
and peat-gold hair.

And the girl with sea-green eyes
said to me:

Should the guy not be bored
being crucified?

Steinn Steinarr
Translation by Sheila Graham-Smith
© 2016

From Wikipedia:    Steinn Steinarr (born Aðalsteinn Kristmundsson, 13 October 1908 – 25 May 1958) was an Icelandic poet.

    Many Icelanders regard Steinn Steinarr as their greatest poet, although he remains almost unknown outside of Iceland, due perhaps to a lack of effective translations of his poetry.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons: “Le Christ jaune” (“The Yellow Christ”): Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) – 1889; oil on
Public domain

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

lament for the peony flowers

lament for the peony flowers

I grieve for the red peony by the steps
as evening nears just two blossomed stems remain

tomorrow morning’s wind will rise & finish them
rueful tonight in flame’s glow I watch red blossoms fade

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Bai Juyi:
xī mŭ dān huā

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Tree Peony: Zhao Chang – Song Dynasty.
Public domain

Monday, March 21, 2016

octet with swans & irrigation wheel lines

when we first walked out you could almost count them:
snake necks, those heraldic white wings miming flight—

then dormant grass vanished as the flock settled
into acres of snowdrift in mud season;

Thorn Creek swirled white gray that March overwhelmed
with snowmelt; we felt much the same, unknowing—

they slept just the one night amongst pipes & wheels:
it was all about a place to come back to

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

on the highest tower in White Emperor Castle

on the highest tower in White Emperor Castle

on the walls the way’s sharp, narrow: in waning sun, pennants
    signal mourning—
upright, alone, indistinct in silken mist, he rises to the tower

in the gorge cleft: cloud & fog where dragon & tiger sleep—
the sun-drenched Yangzi enfolds roaming turtles & alligators

western limbs of the Fusang Tree meet this severed stone;
eastern shadow of the Ruo River accompanies its long current

on my goosefoot cane, sighing for this generation: who will inherit it?
weep blood for the rush of empty cycles, bright chancellor

Jack Hayes
© 2015
based on Du Fu:
báidìchéng zuì gāo lóu

Note: for a more conventional translation of this poem, see this post (1/3/18)

White Emperor Castle refers to Baidicheng

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Báidìmiào (White Emperor Temple): Tomasz Dunn
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

semi-truck & trash can sutra

    for Brittany

it must have been March the cornel dogwood, the
forsythia yellow—magnolia another story—

you wanted photos to send the Israeli, you
always called him that—but the photos:

you thought it best to pose beside metal trash cans,
one dented, graffitied—I questioned that—

or standing chin in hand on the rusted ramp
of a semi parked on your street for no good reason—

your poems packed with Celan & Hank
Williams in miniature, & Far Rockaway bungalows;

the jars of pickled cabbage, a grandmother’s
recollections of Belgrade’s wild flowers & horrors,

the Burgenland’s creosote snowfalls, the faux fur
Macy’s winter coat she announced would be her last—

I always admired your sense of history,
not to mention your thirst for black coffee—

alien now in Ohio with a blue lovebird squeaking
thank you, your sheitel nearly ginger as your

hair in those snapshots—the Israeli, mercurial,
came & went—your husband now a mensch a scholar

in white tzitziyot; the ornamental cabbage swells
bruise purple out front: always faithful to your vision

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

Qiang Village (three poems)

Qiang Village #1

towering red clouds steep to the west,
the sun’s foot below the horizon—
at the brushwood gate, sparrows are chirping
as the wanderer returns from a thousand li’s distance—
my wife & children astonished I’ve survived
but recover from the shock & wipe their tears;
adrift in a world in upheaval, driven by chance,
it’s sheer accident I made it back alive—
the neighbors throng, seated atop the wall;
moved also to sighs, they moan & sob—
as night grows late still more bring candles:
we face each other as though in a dream

Qiang Village #2

life's dusk is pressing, & all seems empty:
even homecoming brings scant joy or appeal—
my tender son clings to my knees,
afraid that though I’ve come back I’ll leave again;
I remember how we used to seek a cool breeze
& wind through the trees at the pond’s edge—
now the powerful north wind is howling
& I stew over a hundred worries
but I know I can count on the grain harvest
& already I know the ale is in the mash-press;
now there’s enough to fill my cup to the brim
& drink down to console my dawdling decline

Qiang Village #3

the chicken flock falls to a squawking riot:
visitors arriving sets them squabbling
& I shoo them up into the trees;
only then I hear the knock on my brushwood gate—
a few reverend village elders,
they ask me about walking such a distance;
& each one comes bearing abundance:
ke teng zi beans poured in, first cloudy, then clear,
then speak bitter words about the ale’s thin taste:
no one remains to plow the fields for millet,
soldiers in their armor endlessly;
sons taken off to fight in the east—
reverend elders may I sing a song for you?
I’m shamed by your hardship & deep feeling—
the song ended I gaze toward heaven, sigh:
on all sides tears are wept without restraint

based on Du Fu: 羌村
qiāng cūn


  • The ale referred to in these poems is Huangjiu or at least an early form of it, also known as yellow wine. It's a beverage made by brewing, though it is stronger than a typical western beer or ale, as it approaches 20% alcohol. In this case it would be made of millet, though it can also be made with  rice, sorghum, or wheat.
  • In poem #3: ke te zing beans come from the Entada phaseoloides, which is native to East Asia & Oceania. Its vernacular English name is St Thomas Bean, but there are obvious problems in using that term in translating an 8th century Chinese poem. There are many traditional uses for these beans, but one is as an anti-inflammatory - soothing to someone who has just returned home after walking for many miles!

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
唐朝墓室壁畫 (Tang Dynasty tomb painting)
Public domain

Sunday, March 13, 2016

spring daybreak

spring daybreak

in spring eyes closed, not awake at break of day,
then aware of bird calls from all directions—
by night the sound of wind & rain drawing near:
blossoms have fallen: were they few or many?

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Meng Haoran:
chūn xiăo

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
墨梅圖  Ink Painting of Plum Blossoms:  Wang Mian - Scroll, Ink on paper. Yuan Dynasty: 1346

Friday, March 11, 2016

get right church (the poem)

the morning train’s commotion in 3:00 a.m. fog the
zinc sulfide ghost glow & the whistle announcing
November like a foregone conclusion, like knowing
death is coming in those instants before giving everything
over to sleep & the cottonwood’s forked limbs gone
gray-white in moonshine not to mention the
scraping of skate blades on barely frozen mud, the
scraping of tires on fallen leaves on the sidestreet,
this brass slide’s whining note without a home to call its
own, that sense of flying above the smokestacks
on frantic mechanical wings, a toboggan
mired in any October orchard where these dropped
Red Delicious rot brown as these chestnut leaves rot
smearing sidewalks & gnarled cherry trees gleam pigment
green moss without any sun as the church bell tones
hollow B-natural notes across the street from a
waterlogged autumn ballfield: the note comes
back & comes back & comes back in the thudding
hooves of two white horses because that evening train
might be too late that evening train might be too late

Jack Hayes

Thursday, March 10, 2016

“Get Right, Church” (the song)

It’s been quite some time since I featured a blues number on Robert Frost’s Banjo, but there’s a great one for you today: Mississippi Fred McDowell’s version of the old gospel tune, “Get Right, Church.” This one is the late career, electric guitar Mississippi Fred McDowell, with Tom Pomposello on bass, recorded live at the Gaslight in Chicago in 1971, though not released until 2000 on the Grapeshot Media label.

McDowell recorded “Get Right, Church” on other occasions, as well, notably as a duet with his wife Annie, who took the lead vocal on a 1965 recording made at their home in Como, Mississippi. [] The Como recording features McDowell’s acoustic playing.

Some powerful music indeed.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Postcard photo of the Illinois Central train "Panama Limited".
Date     circa 1940s to 1950s. This train is diesel powered but the freight train next to it is a steam locomotive. The Panama Limited no longer ran as an Illinois Central train after the 1971 Amtrak takeover of passenger rail service.
This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

climbing Yueyang Tower

climbing Yueyang Tower

long ago I heard about Dongting Lake:
today I ascended Yueyang Tower—

Wu & Chu split apart to east & south
heaven & earth drift day & night on these waters

from family & friends: not a single word;
old & sick, with nothing but a boat—

war horses in the northern border pass—
I lean on the balcony, break down in tears & snivel

Jack Hayes
© 2016

based on Du Fu: 登岳陽樓
dēng Yuèyáng lóu

Climbing towers & mountains—anywhere high with an unimpeded view—was a longstanding tradition among the poets & literati of Medieval China. Yueyang Tower overlooking Dongting Lake was a renowned spot for such excursions.

Wu & Chu were both states during the Spring & Autumn & Warring States periods. The current provinces of Hunan & Hubei were included in Chu (as well as portions of several others), while Wu included the area around modern Nanjing & east to the coast, including the region around modern Shanghai. See the map at this link for more detail.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Yueyang Tower: Xia Yong – Yuan Dynasty

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

salve regina sutra

for Mairi

this valley of tears in the western New England
lowlands even the forsythia held in abeyance,
Good Friday dogwood that won’t struggle forth till May Day:
        in the sky, ice & sleet & steel-edged
        clouds—in the sky still further the
Pillars of Creation erupting in stars & more stars & more
stars, these infinite crowns spanning ghostly gray & crimson
light years: generation & death & black stars & violet stars &
white stars these violent coruscations,
        the four last things: ferocity, intoxication,
        oxygen, prayers for the dying—
this valley of tears in western Oregon, camellias scarlet as
so many hearts laid bare on the avenue where I walk
half-sick & coughing yellow phlegm in the raw egg air & first
magnolias blossoming fleshy in the rain & in memoriam a crimson
        rose bouquet framed in Lily of the
        Valley tears in this our exile
these things springing from earth returning to earth in
E minor in simple waltz time: in this our exile I recall the
kindness you brought to the dying; beyond the sky the
stellar fruit of gas cloud wombs, those de profundis
        membranes exploded to
        every particle of being into the actual
four-part vox humana an organ’s diapason triad these hoofbeats of two
white horses: this endless concatenation of explosions all the miles
of action to absolute zero—
        until then we remain dying in our
own good time in these lands blossoming unbroken
        compassion only

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

dimestore buddhist

a magpie’s indigo feather cast down from
a cottonwood in the dog days, an orange
crayon sun in a sky-blue crayon sky;

the higan cherry’s frail February
blossoms, puddles reflecting a bloom of
cumulus in the park opposite;

one polished boxwood Budai on a birch
dresser, two paper cranes under a plastic
bridge to no-place, five osier stems askew in

one vase, eight whelk shells caramel & white
on sand in another vase, two cups of
shiitake mushrooms, three cloves of garlic, that

one photo of you on a stepladder in
Nova Scotia, four heirloom tomatoes in
a glass bowl bathed in eastern sunlight;

the 10,000 phenomena in
a JJ Newberry’s downtown on the
square I can’t let go of in this life

Jack Hayes
© 2015

Friday, March 4, 2016



Hoof print in water,
twilight-blue eyes
flaxen mane.

And my meaning disappeared
in the hot earth ,
like half-set wax.

But my name continued
in an anonymous way
until the next day.


Steinn Steinarr ("Rigning " in the original Icelandic)
Translation by Sheila Graham-Smith © 2016

From Wikipedia:

    Steinn Steinarr (born Aðalsteinn Kristmundsson, 13 October 1908 – 25 May 1958) was an Icelandic poet.

    Many Icelanders regard Steinn Steinarr as their greatest poet, although he remains almost unknown outside of Iceland, due perhaps to a lack of effective translations of his poetry.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Storm: Ilmari Aalto – 1915; oil painting
Public domain

Thursday, March 3, 2016

crossing Lake Dongting

crossing Lake Dongting

the flood-serpent’s den encircled by green grass;
Dragon’s Hump Island hides the White Sands station—

guarding the dike, primeval entwined trees:
greeting the oar, the watchful posturing crows—

routing waves governed by a southerly wind;
I bring the boom about, fearing the sunset—

light on the lake partakes of the far-flung heavens:
I long to float off on the immortal raft

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu:
guò dòngtíng hú

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Hermit Fisherman on Lake Dongting, by Chinese artist Wu Zhen, Yuan Dynasty period, ink on paper.

中文: 洞庭漁隱
Public domain

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

“Spiegel Im Spiegel” (the music)

Today, Arvo Pärt with a bit of commentary. Pärt composed “Spiegel Im Spiegel” (“The Mirror in the Mirror” or “Mirrors in Mirrors”) in 1978. In the composition, he makes use of what he calls Tintinnabuli, a technique he first used in the 1976 piano piece, “Für Alina”. According to Wikipedia:

Musically, Pärt's tintinnabular music is characterized by two types of voice, the first of which (dubbed the "tintinnabular voice") arpeggiates the tonic triad, and the second of which moves diatonically in stepwise motion. The works often have a slow and meditative tempo, and a minimalist approach to both notation and performance.

“Spiegel Im Spiegel” was originally scored for violin & piano, but versions employing the viola or the cello, as in today’s video, are also common. In addition, there are versions for cello & harp, French horn & piano, (as well as using various other horns & woodwinds); & even for guitar & cello; & this doesn’t exhaust the list of combinations.

The title suggests the “infinity mirror”, in which a mirror contained within a mirror gives the impression of an infinite view.

This video features the playing of cellist Leonhard Roczek & pianist Herbert Schuch, recorded during the Salzburg Mozart Week in 2014. It’s a sublime performance of truly sublime music.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:

Alsace, Bas-Rhin, Marmoutier, Église abbatiale Saint-Etienne, Sol carrelé en marbre du chœur (Marmoutier Abbey: Marble tiled floor in the choir) : Ralph Hammann - 2014

Ralph Hammann make the file available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

spiegel im spiegel (the poem)

quarter moon’s waning curve reflecting silver
sun in that jet sky without stars; & so much
        ambient sound vibrating you don’t
        notice till the power goes out—
the plaintive A mediant note rises from the cello’s body:
        (when the new moon arrives in a
        handful of days reflecting nothing)
a photo snapped on a hill in Ireland: rocks hills no trees
cloud & mist
looking back in time: the
exposure taken the instant between sounds no
wind even whistling despite your dark curls swept
up in a breeze: piano bass notes articulating
green earth, the right hand dark water rippling,
        the cello bows a gray white
        sky creating snow embracing that
aluminum rowboat on the river reflecting a gray
white afternoon fifty winters past: an
infinite surface enclosing a finite volume—I
        wonder when day will
        break gray white to the east?
little bird fly to heaven & start now in the dark the
journey only takes all the lifetimes you have

Jack Hayes
© 2016