History Lesson & Other Poems

by Chip Dameron

History Lesson

No one wants
to tell me

about the flowers
that didn’t bloom

or the tormented
silent scholars

and their children
in the countryside

reciting slogans
that we find

today in dusty
little red books

 

Echoes Through the Gorges

Try to tame
the spirit of
this great dragon

village memories
keep washing up
where new shorelines

climb the mountains
and call out
the forgotten names

of the ones
who once faced
the raging floods

 

In Search of Tao Qian

Leaving the last gorge of the Yangtze,
I traveled east alongside modest farms

in the declining light, looking
for you, bent over another harvest,

and imagined you chatting idly
with Thoreau, walking sticks at hand,

climbing South Mountain by morning,
striding through fields of millet and beans,

celebrating vegetables and books,
sharing cups of wine in bamboo chairs

as night gathered the random sounds
of day and reshaped them into poems

of the moment, crisp and sweet, like fruit
that lingers on the last taste of telling.

 

To Du Fu

Officials will make pilgrimages, no doubt;
your reconstructed thatched cottage, once

nestled in a river village near Chengdu,
now basks in a modernized gray haze.

Tonight, like most nights there now,
the stars stay hidden. Your poems

are fireflies that lead us on to daybreak,
where we watch you watch a kingfisher

in the bamboo, cormorants descending,
geese on the way across the heavens,

living with your failures, baby daughter
dead, looking through your own death

and into the fathomless river, waiting
for a dragon to surface once again.

 

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