by Reid Mitchell
Li Po Brags Again
Banished Immortal, dirty Turk
I popped songs like sweets
into the young mouths of singing girls,
girls whose breasts smell of plums overripe,
who row out in pleasure boats
to sing my love songs
for my prolonged happy funeral.
They call out with hunger
to the parasoled men
gazing along the shore.
Du Fu Is Not Home
I’ve come to your house
You aren’t home
You never lived there
On what other speck of earth
could I kowtow?
I ‘ve brought a Yang Guifei
my own, an emperor’s
She calls herself Helen,
as hot as watchfires
against the black sky.
No towers for her to topple.
bigger than her heart
Shopping behind statues
to buy gifts worthy
of our visit to you:
poets painted on stiff fans.
Dripping sunshine, green shade,
heat caged beneath trees,
our mutual charade:
hands held in silence,
walks that bring peace.
Du Fu, if you wake up
in your borrowed cottage,
will you refuse our wine?
the True Dowager
Madam, this cruelest girl I never kissed
owns an old brain, short skirts,
small embroidered shoes,
delightful little toes.
This Dowager Empress, self-described,
inspired so much babble my tongue
deserves a pension.
Foul-smelling orchids emerged
from my mouth and fell
orange at her feet.
Hearing me, Madam Cexi,
would you have offered
loquots out of season and fine Anxi tea
and slid back into box a sheet of rice-paper,
murmuring no beheadings today?
Would you have passed me a plate, translucent
as skin, heaped with softly nibbled wings:
sparrow: goose: mandarin duck:
every fowl who thought she’d fly away?
First Farewell to Jiangnan
“Not a wisp of cloud shall I take away”.
Xu Zhimo, “Saying Good-bye to Cambridge.”
The arched bridge lifts me toward heaven
as I walk away from North Gate,
toward heaven and a dirty blue sky.
Zhimo, you would write a song
for white-garbed girls on punts,
long afternoons, the shade of English trees.
I’ll write songs for policemen
standing at North Gate,
who scolded a lanky hippie laowai
for sailing his electric boat
in their green canal.
They counted us as we went
but did not mark our white faces.
A song for the dark Tibetan woman.
Her eyes teared when I made
students scribble votes
for classroom movies
on secret ballots.
A song for the angry boy
who demanded I sing “Joe Hill,”
and for sleepy freshman soldiers,
camouflaged in green,
jackjumping on a grey concrete
basketball court at dawn.
I would sing Jane, clean as a willow,
who thanked me
for calling her by name.
I take nothing that will be missed.
I want to leave a small cloud,
filled with future rain.
What Family She Has
There’s not a lot of people she’s met.
She sees in Causeway Bay boutiques molded women wearing gowns too fine for movie stars and their attendant starlets.
She knows ducks and geese hanging by their ankles in the window of a side street shop—smoked, greasy, glazed, alluring.
The old woman who cooks her rice, early every morning, stirs in an extra yolk, fat and golden.
She peers out the window, down to the sidewalk, where boys are said to sometimes walk.
She speaks to many open-eyed fish in the wet market. Each one assures her. “It is not so bad. To be sold and consumed.”