Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Manzanita sutra

(Manzanita, Oregon 10/15/09)   

        But who could know if I’m a traitor?
        Time’s the revelator

            Gillian Welch

once upon an ocean’s bruise purple bruise
orange sundown clouds racing darkness east above
an incoming tide’s worry-stone, 2 by 4, shattered crab shell
freight, this stuff no longer what it seems in the least—actual
photographic prints swirling in bridal white foam the image of that
September tea rose reflected in a rip tide, a cherry tree
riddled with cedar waxwings caught in undertow as water
pulls back west, my hand immersed in it a moment—I told you
stories eddying with loss & you standing in a yellow windbreaker
in October an uncertain smile as terns darted, such a confusion of
broken promises a starfish on wet sand a house sinking a single
tanker riding the earth’s curve close to the vanishing point: if
I say I return & return to that single moment when the ocean’s
crash drowned out your laughter & the sun died golden across

                                 those thousands of miles & breakers & swells it’s
another untruth I utter as always as today’s dark river surges
                                 west with no mercy & nothing left behind

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

late spring

late spring
to the tune “silk-washing sandy brook”

in the small courtyard, idling at the window
                                    among spring’s lush colors,
the heavy curtains not yet rolled up, the shadows deep,
leaning on the railing, indifferent to the jade qin—
the distant peaks send forth clouds to hasten dim evening;
a trifling breeze blows rain, toys with soft darkness:
the pear blossoms’ urge to wither—I fear
                                    there’s no way to forbid it

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Li Qingzhao:
wăn xī shā

Note: Sheila's research elucidated the "jade qin" line, which reads 倚楼无语理瑶琴 (yǐ lóu wú yǔ lǐ yáo qín). A character by character translation would lead to a literal reading along these lines: "lean on building no words reason jade qin"; however, there are two idioms at play here.  倚楼 means "to lean against a railing", & Sheila discovered that this was a common trope indicating a melancholy state. In addition the negative 无 wú changes the meaning of the following characters to "indifferent to/weary of".

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Pear Blossoms: Qian Xuan, ca. 1280

Public domain

Monday, June 20, 2016

deer park

deer park

empty mountain: no one to be seen
but the sound of voices does echo
sunset’s rays enter the forest depths
luminous again on green moss, highest

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Wang Wei:
lù zhài

day and night feel the cold mountain,
share the ease of its lone tenant—
with no knowledge of the deep groves
we have only the stone deer trail

Sheila Graham-Smith
© 2016
based on Pei Di:
lù zhài


Note: These poems are from the 辋川集 (Wǎngchuān jí) or “Wheel River Collection” composed by Wang Wei & Pei Di. As mentioned in previous posts, the “Wheel River Collection” consists of 20 paired poems, each one a jueju or quatrain, describing locations on Wang Wei’s estate in what is now Lantian County.

Readers who are interested in “deer park” should certainly consult Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger & Octavio Paz, a study of 19 different translations of Wang Wei’s quatrain. While there are many translations of Wang Wei’s “Wheel River” poems, the companion poems by Pei Di have not been well represented in English. There’s currently only one complete version of all 20 paired poems, & that’s in the now out-of-print Poems of Solitude by Jerome Ch’en & Michael Bullock. A collection of 13 of the 20 pairs can also be found in A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry, edited by JP Seaton & Dennis Maloney; the translations themselves are by Jospeh Lisowski.

There is an interesting textual crux in the fourth line of the Pei Di poem. The line could read either但有鹿石跡 or但有鹿段跡, in other words, in literal English: “only have deer stone track” or “only have deer section track”. Sheila opted for the former reading in her translation (interestingly, the two existing English translation deftly avoid the problem by translating neither character). Her research turned up the fact that deer statuary often appears at Buddhist temples & in Buddhist sacred images; specifically, she found reference to the deer statues that gave the name to the Buddhist temple at Lumen Shan (Deergate Mountain), where poet Meng Haoran lived for a time. Meng Haoran was a friend of both Wang Wei & Pei Di.

Sheila writes, “My theory is that with deer park Pei Di is answering Wang Wei's abstract unknowable mountain with the direct advice that he feel the cold of it. That is, he brings the mountain back to a real and significant daily presence, a direct experience. The second line answers the absence of humans in Wang Wei's poem with the presence of the solitary guest on the mountain. In the second couplet he takes Wang Wei's remark about the return of the light to the forest (enlightenment) and claims no knowledge of the forest ways, then he take Wang Wei's final line about the sun striking the "single spot of life" and parallels it with what would be an obvious allusion in his time and context to the path of enlightenment, which is all he needs. It seems that a reference to Deer Gate would be immediately recognisable to any educated man in Wang Wei's society as an allusion to a secluded life of culture and spiritual pursuits. Wang Wei never mentions deer in his poem but Pei Di does, by the playful introduction of the stone deer on the path.”

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Herd of Deer in a Maple Grove”: Anonymous

circa 951 A.D.-968 A.D.; ink and colors on silk

Saturday, June 18, 2016

two quatrains

two quatrains


as days grow longer, mountains & rivers grow lovelier;
on spring breezes, the fragrance of grass & blossoms—

as mud thaws, the swallows are on the wing;
on warm sands, Mandarin ducks doze in pairs


the river’s like jade, the birds exceeding white;
in green mountains, flowers aspire to flame—

this springtime I look on also will pass away;
which day, which year will I ever go home

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu:
juéjù èr shŏu

#1: It seems clear that the swallows are gathering the thawing mud for their nests. Renowned Du Fu scholar William Hung actually made that explicit in his prose translation of the poem. However, the Chinese doesn't literally state this, so although it was sorely tempting, we didn't make this explicit. Also, Mandarin ducks traditionally symbolize conjugal happiness. 
#2: Sheila's research has suggested that the flowers described in line 2 are Rhododendron strigillosum, known in China as "prickly rhododendron".  Stephen Owen points out that the final line plays on the pun in Chinese between "going home" & "the end of spring".   

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
芳春雨霽 (Spring Fragrance, Clearing After Rain): Ma Lin, between 1195 & 1224; ink and colors on silk.
Public domain

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

blue octets

"You’re the only one I want
& I’ve never heard your name"
        Townes Van Zandt


where have you gone, June? your alien flowers
cream white & blush on lawns I don’t remember—

brown sparrows dart into blackberry hedges
as I walk past & steel blue cars keep rolling—

under a sidewalk ash a young couple kiss:
a blue ink tattoo of the moon character—

lemon sun in a sky spackled gray & blue:
could I take someone aside & say your name


half life of morning dreams when crows are cawing
on power lines above the drooping cedar—

evanescence: one of the possible words; 
the oatmeal’s blueberry honey aroma,

a playground with a swing under a maple,
the swimming pool's unnatural blue deep end—

just a kid once; the pastures’ electric fence
& a dry well & a moon in the day sky


spring afternoon with sky-blue eyes & roses,
coral magenta vermilion pleats & folds—

I have nothing to give you except the flash
of the scrub jay in the rickety trellis—

another song, another guitar’s blue note
bent to a microtone that hasn’t a name

except cold June, mountain bluebird, blue wrist vein,
rags in a kitchen drawer, I could sing all these


monday's cerulean 9:00 pm with half moon
tilted, gray cirrus clouds haunting west to east

past two planets; things are dropping inside me:
a waterfall running into a culvert—

#4 line bus groaning past spent magnolias;
your black & white photo just now beyond reach—

geese swerving past the white moon & glass buildings:
unsure messengers north through the blue vestige

Jack Hayes
© 2016

Thursday, June 9, 2016

spring night delighted by rain

spring night delighted by rain

the admirable rain knows its season,
coming with the spring & bringing forth life—

it follows the wind & steals into the night,
& moistens creation, delicately, without sound—

the country lanes & the clouds alike are black;
on the river the only light a boat’s lamp—

daybreak reveals a damp vermilion scene:
the heavy-laden flowers in Brocade City

Jack Hayes
© 2016
based on Du Fu: 春夜喜雨
chūn yè xĭ yŭ

Note: “Brocade City” (锦城 Jinchéng) was, & still is a common name for Chengdu. Interestingly, it has also long been known as "The City of Hibiscus" (蓉城 Róngchéng). Du Fu lived in Chengdu from 760-765, & there is a memorial park to him there, including a recreation of his thatched hut (see photo). This poem is usually dated 761.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
杜甫草堂里的花园 (Du Fu Thatched Hut Park) - Taken on 17 July 2005 by 江上清风1961, who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Monday, June 6, 2016

half a ghost town

(Luning, Nevada 4/2/08)

that vacant highway under a gray-white daybreak:
salt & sand country stripped clear of power lines—

we were one self sleeping & several others
awake: pulling into town at nine a.m.,

sun invisible behind the dry cirrus,
opaque with an after-thought of translucence,

like a body you ought to know—pulling into
town, nine a.m., a roadside power pole laid

out flat, a black upholstered porch chair dusted
white, desiccated, left empty a long time—

peripheral apparition of your face:
my profile glimpsed between your eyes & the half-

liminal galvanized single wides where life
persists like a west wind rattling sheet metal

Jack Hayes
© 2016