Friday, December 22, 2017

Three Poems for Chang’e


on the candlelit mica screen, a distant shadow;
Heaven's River ebbs slowly, the morning star sinks low—

Chang’e must regret stealing the elixir of life:
blue of sea, blue of sky, her dark heart, night after night

translation © Jack Hayes 2017
based on Li Shangyin: 嫦娥

Mid-Autumn Moon

insects hidden under grass, frost atop the leaves;
a vermilion balcony presses against the bright lake—

the Rabbit chilled, the Toad cold, the Cassia blossoms white:
this night must be gut-wrenching for Chang’e

based on Li Shangyin: 月夕
yuè xī

Frost Moon

once expeditionary geese are heard, cicadas fall silent;
the hundred-foot tower connects river and sky—

Blue Maiden and White Lady both can endure cold;
in the moon, within frost, they compete in beauty

based on Li Shangyin:  霜月
shuāng yuè 

This set of translations would be more appropriate for the Mid Autumn Festival, Zhōngqiū Jié, which is the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox. But rather wait until next September, I’m posting them now.

We have no way of knowing whether Li Shangyin intended these poems as a complementary set or as distinct & individual compositions. James JY Liu in his seminal work on the poet, The Poetry of Li Shang-yin: Ninth-Century Baroque Chinese Poet, does place the poems together & discuss them as a group. Poet David Young also places the poems together under the title “Three for the Goddess of the Moon” in his Five T'ang Poets. Since Young is a poet & not a Sinologist, I assume in grouping the poems together he is following Liu either directly or at second or third hand.

For more information on the Chang’e myth, see the Wikipedia page. Briefly, Chang’e stole the elixir of immortality & flew to the moon, where she lives with a rabbit (or hare) who pounds herbs into the elixir of immortality with a mortar & pestle & a three-legged toad. There is also a cassia tree on the moon in this myth. Chang’e is the “White Lady” mentioned in the third poem (素娥, sù é), while the Blue Maiden (青女, qīng nŭ) is Qing Nu, the Goddess of Frost & Winter.

As is the case with almost all the Chinese translations, grateful acknowledgment is due to Sheila Graham-Smith, who did a marvelous job of elucidating the first line of the first poem.

Image links to it source on Wiki Commons:
Chang'e flees to the moon: from Yoshitoshi’s 100 Aspects of the Moon. (1885-1892)
Public domain.

Monday, December 18, 2017

In the Classical Style

In the Classical Style

this lifetime passes, a wandering guest;
this death, like someone who returns home—

an upstream journey between earth and heaven,
then the grief of dust across ten thousand years—

the moon rabbit grinds the elixir in vain,
the tree of life already turns to kindling—

white bones lie desolate, without voice,
while dark pines rejoice, sensing springtime—

ahead there’s sighing, behind there’s sighing too:
this glory of a brief day, what’s it worth

translation © Jack Hayes 2017
based on Li Bai: 拟古
nĭ gŭ

This poem has been titled “Old Dust” in other English translations, though that isn’t the meaning of the characters passed down in Chinese tradition as a title: 拟古. It’s worth noting in this context that Li Bai has a series of fifty poems titled古風 (gŭ fēng), which might be translated as “Antiquity”, or “Ancient Airs” or “After the Classics” or some similar phrase. Victor Mair has translated the whole sequence in his excellent Four Introspective Poets, & Paula Varsano has translated a number of the poems in her study, Tracking the Banished Immortal: The Poetry of Li Bo and Its Critical Reception. My sense is that Li Bai in this poem is also deliberately looking back to his classical predecessors.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Sunset at Mt Tai in Shandong province, China, January 2005. Photo by Wiki Commons user Pfctdayelise, who makes the image available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic, 2.0Generic & 1.0 Generic licenses.

Friday, December 15, 2017



in the fourth watch the mountains spew up the moon,
in night’s remains, waters illuminate the tower—

in essence, a dusty case revealing a mirror,
curtains raising themselves in gusts to the topmost hook—

the Rabbit ought to ponder my crane-white hair,
but the Toad only longs for my sable coat—

I mull over the Widow Lady Chang-E,
how she bears the chill of the ninth month

translation © Jack Hayes 2017
based on Du Fu:

Chang-E is the Moon Goddess, & her companions are the Jade Rabbit (or Hare), who pounds herbs into the elixir of immortality, as well as a Toad, often depicted with three legs. Chang-E pilfered the herbs of immortality from her husband, the mythical archer Yi, & flew to the moon. In poetry, she is often a figure for loneliness.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
Tang dynasty (618-906) bronze mirror with moon goddess and rabbit design. Photo by Wiki user Hiart [link provided on Common is empty], who publishes it under the following license: This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Locomotive

is no bigger than my thumb,
a tree’s straight-grained
fragment milled to a shape
implying dynamics,
but parked on the bookshelf
it doesn't budge an inch,
except as we all do in earth’s
thousand mile per hour spin—

the locomotive’s out of proportion
with the globe’s caravels
sailing two-dimensional seas;
the wall clock above,
with scalloped blossom edge, forms
a sort of compass rose,
& the ballast of books below—
                                             there’s not enough time to

read everything & still set foot on
a sailing ship bound for purple
mists on the horizon between Yachats &
Ise Jingu when the wind blows
from the west in summer filled with
invisible kanji & the steps of
Basho in the snow as he lost himself in
eternity beside sun & moon—

Asian pears in a bowl in the
kitchen; I could fetch one here
but I’m typing instead in syncopation
with the clock, thinking about painting
these walls light green perhaps;
the Anglo-Saxon grammar
on the bottom shelf & the crow
outside the window discuss winter—

beyond the carved

boxwood Guanyin on

the sill green


lean in to listen

Jack Hayes 
© 2017

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Book

the book has boundaries without boundaries;
in that sense the book resembles a house: you

are born & die there again & again, you
hoist it on your back, you shrink into it, you

listen to raindrops tapping the skylight when
morning is gray & the chestnut burrs drop at

random onto the driveway & the blue car—
in every book a blue tandem bike waits parked

on its kickstand in the basement for that one
spin through the park on a blue & yellow June

afternoon; in every book a French press
stands half full on the counter; the sun breaks

through clouds to shine on the paperbark maple
next to the backyard swing—you are the perfect

reader, sleeping until the alarm clock chimes,
walking downstairs as if turning the pages

Jack Hayes
© 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dao De Jing 19

Dao De Jing 19

Reject sagacity, abandon expertise
& the people will benefit a hundred times over;
reject altruism, abandon morality,
and the people will return to benevolence;
reject ingenuity, abandon profit,
& thieves will no longer steal.
But these three are superficial & not in themselves sufficient.
Thus follow this directive:
manifest simplicity, embrace modesty,
diminish self-interest, curtail desire.

Laozi, 道德經
Translation by John Hayes
Unlike with my original poetry & poetry translations, I don’t asset a copyright claim on my translation of the Dao De Jing. It may be freely used under the terms of the Creative Commons license.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Xuan Yuan Inquires of the Dao”, scroll, color on silk, 32 x 152 cm. Xuan Yuan is the given name of the Yellow Emperor. This painting is based on the story that the Yellow Emperor went out to the Kongtong Mountains to meet with the famous Daoist sage Guangchengzi. Ming Dynasty.
Public domain.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Huazi Ridge

Huazi Ridge

birds fly off into the infinite;
on the mountain range autumn color returns—
walking up, walking down along Huazi ridge:
do grief & regret ever reach an end

Translation by Jack Hayes © 2017
based on Wang Wei: 華子 岡
huá zĭ gāng

Image links to its source in Wiki Commons:
Landscape attributed to Southern Song artist, Yamato Bunkan, Nara, Japan.
Public domain.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sent North on a Rainy Night

Sent North on a Rainy Night

you ask the date of my return: there’s no date;
in the Ba mountains ponds swell with autumn rain—

when may we again trim wicks by the west window,
and speak together about Ba mountain night rain

based on Li Shangyin: 夜雨寄北
yè yŭ jì běi

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Cloudy Mountains”: Mi Youren; 1130.
Public domain.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Taking Down A Trellis

Taking Down A Trellis

the bound sticks already wither & fall;
the gourd’s leaves turn wilted & sparse—

since its white flowers managed to bear fruit
how can green vines not accept this dismantling—

autumn insects’ voices haven’t gone away;
sparrows at dusk: what can they be thinking—

in the cold, things now fall to waste;
human life also has its beginnings

based on Du Fu: 除架
chú jià

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Early Autumn”: Qian Wuan. 13th Century; ink & colors on paper scroll.
Public domain


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Partridge Sky

Partridge Sky

forest groves cut off mountain dawn, bamboo hides the walls,
cicadas’ hubbub fades in grass by the small pond—
white birds appear reeling & reeling again through the sky,
lotus shines vermilion, its delicate scent on the water—

past the cottages,
near the ancient city,
I stroll quietly on goosefoot cane, turning to the oblique light—
thanks to yesterday’s midnight rain
I get another cool day in this drifting life

Translation by Jack Hayes
© 2017
based on Su Shi: 鷓鴣天
zhè gū tiān

Many thanks as always to Sheila Graham-Smith for her helpful suggestions.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Autumn Skies Part”: Guo Xi. Song Dynasty – Public domain

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

5 Phases of the October Moon

1. new moon

traffic looks stalled under the Fremont Bridge arch
but it’s far off through rain & the train window

black river’s a one-way mirror for the sky
where the moon must float, absorbing gray moisture

2. waxing crescent

the sky’s undecided--half hour after
blue, half hour before black--but the train might

arrive on schedule under gold station lights:
the crescent’s blurred above angled power lines

3. half moon

cattails & vetch thrive at the parking lot’s edge
where this late afternoon blends shadow & sun—

the yellow clapboard walls align slanted light,
but not slanted light off the divided moon

4. waxing gibbous

streetlight photons cut across the avenue,
glimmer between the birch leaves, an electric

nest; here come the headlights, flying two by two:
moon’s belly swells ripe in an unpeopled sky

5. full moon

the taijitu sign glows black & white against
a stucco building; people are driving home,

lights approaching from all dimensions; how can
this moon be both a mirror & an orphan

Jack Hayes
© 2017

This completes the yearlong cycle of moon quatrains, & also officially signals the completion of the Sunflower Sky manuscript & 101 Portland Moons. Stay tuned for publication information.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

September Moon

(8 quatrains)

1. new moon

the clothesline shadow sharpens on white clapboards:
the wooden pins & dish towels float static

between lilac’s silhouette & the window:
sun crescent at the moon’s invisible edge

2. waxing crescent

crickets babble like invisible water
from all directions at once; white headlights flow

east-west, almost steady; afloat in heaven’s
black river: the crescent moon, luminous leaf

3. half moon

the smears where plums dropped to the concrete grow darker
where black plum leaves screen the streetlights; white roses

flank the dim sidewalk, but it’s clear they’ve gone past—
half moon in nameless purple sky: gaze elsewhere

4. waxing gibbous

kitchen light walks through the backdoor screen, stretches
out on the swing chair a low ginkgo bough holds

up—nothing else is stirring, not even that
moon half hidden in the ginkgo’s higher limbs
5. full moon

that sconce light on the sky blue wall shines inside
the picture window along with the porch light

across the avenue; in the backyard the
moon burns incandescent yellow by itself
6. waning gibbous

electric crimson roses climb the stop sign,
but the blooms don’t seem to listen; sunflowers

bask in light off clapboards: beside a building
made of windows, the waning moon hangs heavy

7. last quarter

clouds at the horizon are such as they are,
far west of the red-lettered gas station sign—

doubtful we’ll comprehend them in this lifetime—
the half moon’s vanishing in more than one sense

8. waning crescent

that flash of a small white plane overhead; I
mistook it for the moon, but it turns north—two

cabbage whites thread through a garden that’s gone past—
this crescent’s a paler cloud, off by itself

Jack Hayes
© 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Welcome to another edition of the Sunday music series.

We continue our September feature on composer Toru Takemitsu with a version of his 1974 piece “Gitimalya” (sub-titled “A Bouquet of Songs”). “Gitimalya” is scored for marimba & orchestra; here the marimba is played by Luigi Gaggero, with the accompaniment of the Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin.

There’s a lovely & brief write up about this composition at Allmusic, which can be found at this link.

Hope you enjoy it.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Stage for the presentation of the album "A Bonsai Garden" by Brian Banks, Musical Wednesdays program within the week.” Photo by Wiki user Fraguando (link provided is empty), who makes it available under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Time & the River

(Eastbank Esplanade: 9/2/17)

green river like evening air stretching its
hands between the maples beside a distant

river—mother would recognize it in oils,
a canvas I could picture but didn’t paint—

but it’s afternoon & water has little
to do with this solid state blue sky; liquid

fragments stitched with boat wakes & memories &
glimpses in the direction this current flows

the pigeons & starlings feeding on bread crumbs
strewn by park benches are skittish in the heat—

the scrub jay perched on the galvanized railing
turns & turns again, darts to the madrona’s

foliage—a pair of Canada geese on
a sinking log below the bramble cascade

stretch wings, preen in unison; under Burnside
bridge other geese move on indigo shadows

I’m not young; the motorboat churns downriver,
bow lifted; a paddleboat moseys past those

floating geese, but the geese don’t stir; you’re standing
in sunlight, holding the dog on her leash in

a photograph in my mind that’s also you
standing by the railing above green green flow:

a freight train processes west on the Steel Bridge,
its passing infinite for those few minutes

Jack Hayes
© 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden

We return with music for your Sunday, & continue with our September feature on composer Toru Takemitsu.

Today’s selection is the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Takemitsu’s 1977 composition, “A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden”. Gene Tyranny, writing for the Allmusic site, described the composer’s inspiration as follows:

This beautifully titled composition for orchestra was inspired by a dream in which the composer saw a flock of white birds, led by a single black bird swirling around and then descending into a pentagonal or star-shaped garden. The garden, however, turned out to be the star on the back of artist Marcel Duchamp's head in the famous photograph by Man Ray.

I’d encourage you to read the entire Allmusic entry on “A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden”, which can be found at the link given above, as well as the essay on the piece at this link.

Hope you enjoy the music.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“A painting  of birds and  flowers”: Kitayama Kangan(1767 - 1801). Circa 1800.
Public domain.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

And don’t tell me anything

And don’t tell me anything

And don’t tell me anything,
that someone can kill perfectly,
since, sweating ink,
someone does all he can, don’t tell me…

We’ll come back, gentlemen, to see ourselves with apples,
the creature will pass by late,
Aristotle’s expression armed
with grand wooden hearts,
and that of Heraclitus grafted onto that of Marx,
that of the gentle pealing roughly…
It’s what my throat told me:
someone can kill perfectly.

kind sirs, we’ll come back without parcels;
until then I demand, will demand of my frailty
the day’s stress, which,
as I see, was already waiting for me on my bed.
And I ask my hat for memory’s ill-fated analogy,
because sometimes I assume my immense mournfulness with success,
because sometimes I drown in my neighbor’s voice,
and endure
numbering the years on kernels of corn,
brushing off my clothes to the a dead man’s tune,
or sitting drunk in my coffin…

César Vallejo, “Y no me digan nada”
Translation by Jack Hayes
© 2017

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Héraclite” (“Heraclitus”): Johannes Moreelse; circa 1630.
Public domain


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Two Octets from Late August

Amazing Grace Octet

this morning's overcast has wound up shredded;
from the next block a hammer’s thud, a nail gun’s

staccato echo an invisible world—
the engine of a parked car turns over

but it doesn't seem to catch the attention
of that lonesome crow perched on the wire

as usual—twin sunflowers try to find
their place amidst unmade clouds—I once was lost


The Time Octet

the future exists already but like so
many other places I haven't been there—

autumn comes to call on the avenue this
noon; one red petunia petal falls from

the balcony, pretending to be a leaf;
outside the tea shop a woman pulls on her

sweater; the bus comes, either late or early:
my shadow moves ahead of me, to the side

Jack Hayes
© 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dao De Jing 18

Dao De Jing 18

When the Great Way was abandoned, humaneness & morality became abundant;
Wit & cleverness emerged, & hypocrisy abounded;
When harmony no longer held through the six close kinships*, filial sons grew abundant;
When the nation was benighted with disorder, loyal ministers grew plentiful.

Laozi, 道德經
Translation by John Hayes
Unlike with my original poetry & poetry translations, I don’t asset a copyright claim on my translation of the Dao De Jing. It may be freely used under the terms of the Creative Commons license.

* 六親 [liù qīn]
six close relatives, namely: father 父[fu4], mother 母[mu3], older brothers 兄[xiong1], younger brothers 弟[di4], wife 妻[qi1], male children 子[zi3]

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Bagua diagram by Zhao Huiqian ("River Chart spontaneously [generated] by Heaven and Earth" 圖河.自地天). This image may in fact be a reproduction of the diagram by Hu Wei in his Yitu mingbian (‘Clarification of the diagrams in the book of changes’), dated 1706.” circa 1370; 1706. Public domain.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Eclipse (For Biwa And Shakuhachi)

Welcome back to the Sunday music feature. In September we’ll be featuring the music of Toru Takemitsu.

Takemitsu is a major composer & a few blog posts over the course of a month can serve only as the most cursory introduction & exploration of his music. I’d strongly encourage those who are interested in what they hear to seek out more information at the links given with each post & also to seek out more of Takemitsu’s music, which is readily available.

We begin the series with Takemitsu’s 1966 composition, “Eclipse. This is scored for traditional Japanese instruments, the shakuhachi & the biwa. The former is a bamboo flute, while the latter is a type of lute.
Although Takemitsu was strongly influenced by Western music (Debussy, Messiaen, & Webern particularly) & indeed at one point expressed an aversion to traditional Japanese music—because it reminded him of World War II militarism—he began incorporating elements of Japanese music into his compositions under the influence of John Cage beginning in the early 1960s. Takemitsu’s 1967 composition “November Steps” for biwa, shakuhachi, & orchestra is related to “Eclipse”.

Hope you enjoy the music

Images link to their sources on Wiki Commons:
  1. “Performer playing shakuhachi in 60th Himeji oshiro festival, 2009”. Photo by Wiki user Corpse Reviver, who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
  2. “A selection of biwa in a Japanese museum”. Photo by Wiki user Jnn, who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.1 Japan license.

Friday, September 1, 2017

I am going to speak of hope

I am going to speak of hope

I don’t suffer this pain as César Vallejo. I don’t grieve now as an artist, as a man or even as a simple living being. I don’t suffer this pain as a catholic, or a muslim, or an atheist. Today I only suffer. If I weren’t called César Vallejo, I’d still suffer this same pain. If I weren’t an artist, I’d still suffer with it. If I weren’t a man or even a living being, I’d still suffer with it. If I weren’t a catholic, an atheist or a muslim, I’d still suffer with it. Today I suffer from further down. Today I only suffer.

I grieve now without explanations. My pain’s so deep it has neither a cause nor the lack of a cause. What would its cause be? Where is that thing of such importance it might leave off being the cause? Nothing is its cause; nothing has been able to leave off being its cause. From what has this pain been born, by itself? My pain’s from the north wind & the south wind, like neutered eggs that some rare birds lay conceived from the wind. If my bride were dead, my pain would be the same. If they’d sliced my throat to the root, my pain would be the same. If life were, in short, some other way, my pain would be the same. Today I suffer from higher up. Today I only suffer.

I look at the hungry man’s pain & see that his hunger walks so far from my pain that if I starved myself to death, a blade of grass would turn up at my grave at least. The same with the lover. How generative his blood is, unlike mine without spring or consummation.

I used to believe that all things in the universe were, inevitably, fathers or sons. But here’s my pain today, neither father nor son. It lacks a back for nightfall, just as it has too much chest for daybreak & if they put it in a bright room, it wouldn’t cast a shadow. Today I suffer, come what may. Today I only suffer.

César Vallejo, “Voy a hablar de la esperanza”
Translation by Jack Hayes
© 2017

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:
“Schieles Wohnzimmer in Neulengbach” (“Schiele's Room in Neulengbach”): Egon Schiele. oil on panel; 1911.
Public domain.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August Moon

(8 quatrains)

1. new moon

chrome hubcap complete with bolts lies on blacktop
as if about to set below the curb’s rise—

yucca stalks against white sky, blossoms faded:
moon’s blank disc invisible past the pink clouds

2. waxing crescent

twilight’s losing its cobalt blue momentum;
it comes down to three red lights suspended in

a horizon silver as that one stopped car:
pinprick planet next to this swelling crescent

3. half moon

bare chestnut limbs a character inked on this
violet sky—what does their radical mean?

white musk odor of Queen Anne’s lace on the lawn:
half moon bowing its head in recollection

4. waxing gibbous

those nameless trees on the side street look that much
darker than the sky; bus stop shelter absorbs

the red light’s spill, but is otherwise empty—
moon out of round against a purple curtain

5. full moon

three moths flash off & on, eccentric spirals
through the security light’s high amber heat—

out of sight between dark houses, cars murmur:
moon catches metallic sun in empty night

6. waning gibbous

the Siamese cat materializes
from the patio shikimi, blending with

patched concrete, parched grass, illuminated leaves:
moon rises past the roof without commotion

7. last quarter

this sun highlights the galvanized downspout’s joints;
the hummingbird feeder, dangling from a beam,

is filled with sugar water, & plums shine ripe,
but the half moon’s upturned bowl sinks into clouds

8. waning crescent

the parking strip sunflower’s grown too heavy
to look up at the black & white prop plane as

it circles that crow standing in Queen Anne’s lace;
this moon has grown so faint you’d need to look twice

Jack Hayes
© 2017