Exile, Under the New Moon



Adapted from the Chinese of Li Yü

I know I should go in, now.
It is best to forget it all, better to sleep
and recall it to ghost-life; least-best
is waiting out the night here,
thinking of those who have gone.
The wind is back in the courtyard
(new wind or ever the same one?)
and the dull grass is sliced
    with new green slivers.
Spring, undeniable,  paints yellow-green
in willow shoots.
Long I recline on the balustrade,
waving away my servant, a nay
to the tonic of the waiting teacup.
I am alone. I am not
reciting old poems. My mouth
is clamped with the forgetting
of mere words. All ears,
I wait for for the next west-east
fluttering amid the bamboo leaves
wind of a new moon as always.
Away, where I am missed
and amid those I despair of,
exactly the same sky shivers.

Rubbing their hands
     together, the pi-pa players
await my orders. What tune
can I order amid the willow rush,
the ruffle of wind in the cat-tails?
I gesture them to stillness. They bow.
Old Chen, I see, has not removed
the hundred-year-old wine jar,
nor my ink pot and its brushes.
As for calligraphy, what is mine
against that cracked-ice poem
that just now melts on the lake face.

On the deep, dark terrace behind me
burns a single candle, one ember
beside it, last breath of incense.
The past.   The past.   The dawn
that I am facing is solitary;
there seems scant need to undress
but to rise and re-dress again,
for whom,  or for what?
I feel in my hair the gnawing frost,
as on my brow the last snow
hovers at edge of vision
and refuses to melt.
I     will     just    sit.
Thought is unthinkable.

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