Li Po-ems

Li Po-ems: My Conversations with Li Po

I wrote three collections of poems–in real time, online–during September 2016, a cataclysm of catharsis after a 20-year hiatus from poetry writing. This is the first, a series of conversations with the great Chinese poet Li Po (Li Bai) precipitated by gifts from two wonderful Chinese friends in ways I explain in the brief preface below.


Here is a printable PDF of the whole collection if you prefer to read from hard copy:

submitted Li Po-ems Final with preface for print


Here are my readings of the poems from this collection:

Here is the full text of Li Po-ems:



Li Po-ems


With translations by David Hinton and Yan Pu



Copyright 2017 Paul Kameen


All lines quoted from Li Po are from David Hinton’s translations, as listed below, with the exception of the last two passages in poem #1, invented for that conversation, and the passages quoted in poems #1, #5, and #15, which were translated by my friend Yan Pu.



CREDIT LINE: By Li Po, translated by David Hinton, from THE SELECTED POEMS OF LI PO, copyright ©1996 by David  Hinton. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing

World Rights including Canada, excluding British Commonwealth.

Specific page numbers from which the Li Po quotes are taken are provided in a list at the end of the book.



Preface: 9/31/16

I stopped writing poems about 20 years ago, willfully, as I had stopped writing poems on several occasions previously when I was younger. I explain why in some detail in my book Re-reading Poets. Here is what I now want to add to that explanation:

When I’m working right, the whole process of composition, the writing, the revising, the reading, the rereading, the memorizing, all of it, enhances my life, rewards my time, elevates my being-presence in the world. I feel all of that in an immediately embodied way, down to my fingertips. When it doesn’t do that, for extended stretches, I know I am off-center, out of kilter, unbalanced, in the wrong, and I know I need to get right again. The only thing that works for me in that regard, when it comes to poetry, the most cherished kind of writing I do, is stopping, completely, letting it rest. With all my earlier hiatuses, a new process, a right process, started up again quite naturally and spontaneously after 2-3 years. I was happy about it and went back to writing poems again. This last time it didn’t. I have no idea why. So I’ve just waited, a great accomplishment for me because I love writing poems and I am extremely impatient. And still I waited, probably gave up, actually.

Then last fall my friend Yan Pu translated a poem by Li Po, the 8th century Chinese poet, one of my favorite poets. Her translation just knocked my socks off, so beautiful, which got me thinking about him again. This past January one of her friends studying for a PhD in England, Marian Orton, found my book This Fall, and it found her at a just the right time in her life. I have gotten to know both of them quite well in the meantime. A few weeks ago, my friend in England sent me, via our friend here, a beautiful ceramic statue of Li Po, seated on a rustic wooden half-log lodged inside a golden-steel circle, which itself is perched up on a large wooden base. It is magnificent. When I brought it home I wanted to put him somewhere I’d encounter him often, establish a relationship with him. As soon as I walked into my dining room, I knew where he belonged: on the table right across from me. You see him sitting there on my book cover. I am alone now, so having a presence on the other side of the table would be, I knew, a big upgrade to my dining experience. Almost immediately, first meal together, we struck up a kind of conversation (mostly, but not entirely, silently). Meal after meal, just Li and me.

In late August I thought I would try to formalize this conversational pattern through compositions that combined his words and mine. In other words, write some poems. So I began to re-read some of his poems (translated to English.) The very first poem I picked brought tears to my eyes, good tears, made me think, unexpectedly, about my wife, Carol, who used to sit across the table from me.  I wrote the first poem quickly and then over the next ten days the rest, all coming so easily, like talking with a friend. These poems felt right. Just right. Good. The way poems are supposed to feel, for me at least. I put them together here to invite a right reader, maybe you, to join us in this conversation.

#1: 8/31/16


“The deep forest reveals a few deer,

the creek flowing conceals the midday bells.


No one knows where you have gone,

I lean against two or three pines, wistful.”




Because last night I decided everything, today

I took the path we always took together,

the wide one, to the great green field, heaven!


At the head of the narrow way

down the hill, a small doe stood,

stared at me, perfectly still, so beautiful.


I knew it was you, stopped. Five minutes,

ten minutes, long, we stood still together

eye to eye, my tears streaming.


I couldn’t bear for you to have to stay here,

this world, this nothing, so long, moved

toward you. You leapt away, heaven.




What is this heaven?




Where she is.




Are the gods there?




If no god is there

I will know there is no god

worth my knowing.





#2: 9/1/16




“I leave Ch’ing Ch’i for Three Gorges. Thinking

of you without seeing you, I pass downstream of Yu-chou.

.  .  .

Poor waters of home. I know how it feels:

ten thousand miles of farewell on this boat.”




Some nights in my dreams

she is right there, no river-seam


carving gorges between thinking

and seeing, her high mountain and mine.


She never speaks, knowing words

are just broken-down boats


that keep me afloat, barely,

between here and there, flotsam,


unable to go back, row home,

ten thousand miles upstream


where think and see are together again,

where there is no such word as “farewell.”




#3: 9/1/16





“Here, after wandering among these renowned

mountains, the heart grows rich with repose.


Why talk of cleansing elixirs of immortality?

Here, the world’s dust rinsed from my face,


I’ll stay close to what I’ve always loved,

content to leave the peopled world forever.”




Here, walking, you with me, and her,

we three, I say “I am no-not-alone,”


just these trees to believe me, wandering

solitary among them on the same small path


day after day, we three, these trees

what’s left of my peopled world,


both immortality and the world’s dust

rinsed from my face daily by rain, my tears,


so close to what I always loved, but not . . .

heart rich with everything but repose.




#4: 9/2/16





“In Hsiang-yang, pleasures abound. They play

‘Copper-Blond Horses,’ and we sing and dance.


But it’s a river town. Return to clear water,

and a blossoming moon bares our delusions.”




The reel I designed in my dream,

smaller than her closed fist,

delivered a line to a tiny tub

100 yards upstream,

pulled a full-grown man

kicking to get free

through rough water

up the bank to her feet.

The other men tested

oohed, ahhed, went home.


So she set a second test

that no reel

in any man’s hand

could meet.

I smiled at her guile

packed my gear and left,

without even one cast.


I do not know

how long she watched

from the bank,

mouth wide, waited

for my turning back.


I know how to sing and dance

in these river towns,

pleasures abounding.

A blossoming moon

soon enough

bares the delusion.

Clear water, a fair test

for a good man

with a good reel,

flows only downstream,

never turning back.





#5: 9/2/16





“Sun rises over the eastern nook,

as if coming from the underground.

.  .  .

Grasses never refuse to flourish in spring wind;

Trees never resent their leaf-fall under autumn sky.

.  .  .

I will include myself in eternal heaven and earth,

become part of the Mighty Power of the world.”




Just yesterday it seems

trillium carved starlight sparkle

into last year’s leaf-fall dark,

up and down ravines too steep

for hungry deer to reach,

the rare rosy-fingered ones

gathered at the dogleg turn

I take, the way down,

each a little dawnlit day.






Today sunroots, eight feet tall,

hundreds and hundreds, lean

into the portal of my path,

a palisade I pass through,

coming from underground

out into Mighty Power:

the light, right now and right now.


Do not refuse, they say, season

to season, resent. Myself: included.





#6: 9/2/16





“It’s September now. Butterflies appear

in the west garden. They fly in pairs,


and it hurts. I sit heart-stricken

at the bloom of youth in my old face.


Before you start back from out beyond

all those gorges, send a letter home.


I’m not saying I’d go far to meet you,

no further than Ch’ang-feng Sands.”




The one buddleia we planted out back

cost next to nothing, a buck.

This year there are seven, eight, ten,

so many, “invasive” they say.


So what, I say, so beautiful,

September now, seven-foot stems

cascade every which way, laden,

masses of purple florets bobbing,

butterflies all day coming and going,

swallowtails, monarchs, cabbage whites.


When they fly in pairs, they do not hurt.

Singles, maybe, the little white ones,

and I think you are almost with me,

now, so close, so out of reach,

letters home I cannot decipher.


I don’t know how far I’d go to meet you,

further for sure than Ch’ang-feng Sands,

those thousands of miles, beyond the gorges.


The garden is so near. I see it from here,

and your face everywhere these days,

so full, we both, with the bloom of youth.


Next month, maybe, I will be old,

gray again, heart-stricken. Not today.

It’s September now. Butterflies appear.





#7: 9/2/16




“The night’s lazy, the moon bright. Sitting

here a recluse plays his pale white ch’in,


and suddenly, as if cold pines were singing

it’s all those harmonies of grieving wind.


Intricate fingers flurries of white snow,

empty thoughts emerald-water clarities:


No one understands now. Those who could

hear a song this deeply vanished long ago.”




Once a lazy moon-bright night she listened

and I sang. Now, no one, pale white I play,


recluse they say, cold pines, wind-

grieving, hard harmonies, who cares


to hear, share songs with air,

notes fingered, white flurries floating,


intricate emerald-empty clarities

no one understands now,


my love, friends, all vanished long ago,

such sweet songs buried deeply.




#8: 9/3/16





“Flourishing a white-feather fan

lazily, I go naked in green forests.


Soon, I’ve hung my cap on a cliff,

set my hair loose among pine winds.”




Yes, let’s let loose today, Li.

I cry way too much for a guy,

laugh like a moonstruck loon.

I am “tired of tears and laughter,”

twisted together licorice sticks.


It is summer still, forests

greener even than green,

knee deep in green.


If we meet another naked man

flourishing a white-feather fan

we three can walk all the day long,

lazily, hair set loose, caps hung on cliffs.




#9: 9/3/16




“It’s like a boundless dream here in this

world, nothing anywhere to trouble us.


I have therefore been drunk all day,

a shambles of sleep on the front porch.

.  .  .

I pour another drink. Soon, awaiting

this bright moon, I’m chanting a song.

And now it’s over, I’ve forgotten why.”




Ah! Li, just me, you and the moon

tonight, that tight, sidewise smile,

tiny bright tuck in a big, black sky.

The moon, the sky: one “me,” the other

“my life,” but which I wonder is which?


Last night, like most, my sleep

a shambles, stopping, starting,

stumbling back and forth:

boundless dream, boundless world,

but which I wonder is which?


I don’t drink much, but you sure do,

so let’s take some whiskey straight:

To you, to that soon-to-be-goofball-moon

we just see a stitch of tonight, to me,

my life, a boundless dream, this world,

whatever makes the sweeter song

to chant, nothing to trouble us.

When any or all of it’s over, I hope

we’ll both have forgotten why.










“Short and tall, spring grasses lavish

our gate with green, as if passion driven,


everything returned from death to life.

My burr-weed heart–it alone is bitter.


You’ll know that in these things I see

you here again, planting our gardens


behind the house, and us lazily gathering

what we’ve grown. It’s no small thing.”




All the small things, you always said,

what you would miss most not being here,

that first taste of coffee in the morning,

the feel of a knee bending on its way

down stairs, and me I’d say, laughing,

Paul, from paucus, Latin for small!

You never said yes, but you never said

no, just laughed, too, no small thing.




Some days I think only of small things

so I won’t recall all I now know,

my burr-weed heart growing bitter.


Some days I recall all the small things

so I won’t forget what I love,

my burr-weed heart growing bitter.


Some nights, the perfect ones,

grasses lavish, passion-driven,

I sit in the back yard with my guitar,

sing songs softly, your chair

beside mine, empty,

but no, not in my yard,

only a chair I am “saving,”

a sweater maybe flung on it,

until the one I came with gets back.


From death to life? Crazy you say. Never.

I know. I know. But still,


It’s no small thing.





#11: 9/4/16





“Heaven’s fragrance everywhere pure

emptiness, heaven’s music endless,


I sit silent. It’s still, the entire Buddha-

realm in a hair’s-breadth, mind-depths


all bottomless clarity, in which vast

kalpas begin and end out of nowhere.”




This morning I woke with

the scent of henna on my pillow.

A few times a year you used it

on your hair, toucan on the box,

the same gray ceramic bowl

you mixed it up in, the one

you had before we were married,

kept on the bottom shelf

of the skinny kitchen cabinet

next to the refrigerator, lightly

stained from all that black goop.



Those days, when we made love,

I would breathe the scent in deep,

skies-full of wild dark birds.


I never knew why you did it,

your hair always jet black, thick.


If you were here beside me

this morning I would ask you.

Why? Just once. Maybe

if I were lucky, you would tell me

everything that gathers in my head

now around that question,

those flocks of many-thousand birds

swarming restlessly, early fall,

how they whirl and wheel

as if they are one thing, liquid,

flowing around an invisible

solid center, what they want

to know before it’s time to leave.


Or just many-stranded strong black hair

caught up in gust of autumn wind

fulsome with the scent of henna.





#12: 9/4/16





“Alone, searching for blue-lotus roofs,

I set out from city gates. Soon frost


clear, Tung-lin temple bells call out,

Hu Creek’s moon bright in pale water.”




That moon tonight, sleek, white boat

sliding, silent, over still dark water,

I inside it trying to guide it, why?


Time, this deep, black lake

I float on, in, over, only one

moving: water, sky, which?


I set out tonight searching

again for something, anything

frost clear, nearby, far, no matter.


Temple bells call out, soon, when?

Sky, moon, lake, I, wait, glide, silent.




#13: 9/4/16





“Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon,

and facing my shadow makes friends three.

. . .

Kindred a moment with moon and shadow,

I’ve found a joy that must infuse spring:


I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;

I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces.

. . .

Intimates forever, we’ll wander carefree

and meet again in Star River distances.”




My shadow dances with me

just like you did, can keep the beat

when I won’t. I had no idea.


Today, by myself in the woods,

sidewise to sun, it just walked up

beside me, on the left, we turned,

faced each other, and right there

on the sunlit forest floor

we did a little bit of jitterbug.


I know there is always dancing

where you are, those Star River

distances “don’t mean a thing”

if they “ain’t got that swing.”

Some night when I can’t sleep,

sitting out back, the moon

and me rocking back and forth,

I’ll slip it off, send it up.


We will dance the night away,

Our last dance your favorite,

“Waltzing Matilda,” Tom Waits,

so long, like forever, that voice,

the one I would have had

if I had been a better man,

maybe there I’ll have it,

sing to you, cheek to cheek:


“Wasted and wounded,

it ain’t what the moon did,

I’ve got what I paid for now.

See you tomorrow,

hey Frank, can I borrow

a couple of bucks from you

to go waltzing Matilda,

waltzing Matilda,

you’ll go waltzing Matilda with me.”


And you’ll be my Matilda

filled full with thrills ’til the

moon sends

my shadow

back down.




#14: 9/4/16





“Heaven’s fragrance everywhere pure

emptiness, heaven’s music endless,


I sit silent. It’s still, the entire Buddha-

realm in a hair’s breadth, mind-depths


all bottomless clarity, in which vast

kalpas begin and end out of nowhere.”




My kitchen clock tick-tocks,

shrill crickets still trill,

sirens whine by.

I wait to want to sleep.


My mind is not at ease,

un-silent I sit, each breath

a hooked fish reeled up

from mind-depths, bottomless,

thick with un-thoughts.


Yesterday, heavenly fragrance.

Today just impure emptiness.

Vast kalpas begin and end

out of nowhere. No one,

not even you, to notice.




#15: 9/4/16





“Autumn wind clear, autumn moon bright,

Fallen leaves gather then scatter,

Dark crows settle and startle.”





Beech tree bark is parchment

smooth, perfect for carving.


On one I walk by daily:

a heart, arrow-stitched,

meticulous script:







Right beneath, huge letters

gouged out helter-skelter:








I wonder day by day:

one or the other betrayed,

hateful? Someone else

enraged, forewarning? Today

I wondered: Which came first?


All I know is this: Nothing

in this world is fake: love,

hate, rage: just decide

day by day which

your knife will carve in bark.





“When will we end our longing and meet again?

That thought, this moment, suddenly unbearable!”







Wind clear, moon bright.

Leaves, in piles, scatter.

Crows, cold, startle.


Nothing fake.

That thought, this moment, suddenly





#16: 9/5/16





“Are hopes and dreams any different?

We bustle around looking for what?

. . .

A million miles azure pure–the eye

reaches beyond what ruins our lives.”




Today, all that light leaning

into the hill on the high side

from azure pure September skies,

I saw for the first time all

the tallest trees! I’ve walked

this path now many-thousand

days, and today they were there,

everywhere I looked, up and down,

three feet wide at the base

some more, maybe four:

shapely maples, arms draped

over one another’s shoulders

up there where light lasts daylong,

rocket-ship-straight poplars,

flames flaring on forest floor,

blasting past me into space.


I have no idea if they were here

yesterday, will be tomorrow.

But today I heard what they said,

not all those big things

they surely must know,

having been here so long,

not deep secrets whispered

close to my ear, and not, for sure,

hopes and dreams, no,

bustling around looking

for what . . .


Just this: “Look. See.”

And today I did: so many

huge, true things standing

upright all the way to the sky,

right now, right there,

for someone, anyone,

me, say, to look, finally, see.




“Inexhaustible, Ching-t’ing Mountain and I

gaze at each other, it alone remaining.”







#17: 9/5/16





“Wandering Autumn River in sorrow, I gaze into

Autumn River blossoms fiercely. Soon, it rivals


Yen-hsien for lovely mountains and streams

and for wind and sun, it’s another Ch’ang-sha.”




In these woods, at least here,

this sacristy of space

that holds, releases

every shed tear, it is not

sorrow I feel, not joy, either,

not anything I name.


I gaze fiercely, blossoms

in spring, summer’s green-

steeped trees, and now, fall again,

these first few flutter-down leaves.


This is no place for grief.

Here I am cared for. Where



care comes from, or how,

is of no matter to me now.


You say your river rivals

that one, wind, sun, the same,


Ch’ang-sha, much fought over

in your day, and that one,

for mountains and streams,

Yen-hsien, wide-astride seaside.


Autumn River, wandering,

where a recluse-fisherman

drops in a line, lazes,

while you gaze, fierce,

into blossoms, I see

what you mean.




“No plans to go looking for such solitude,

I set out on a whim, never mind distance.”




Like you, Li, I do not go

where there is no one;

I go where no one else goes.

Solitude simply follows.


Here is everything they seek

there: wind, sun, mountains,

streams, not others, of course,

all crowding around

to see, but you, Li, and me,

what we find here, free.





#18: 9/6/16





“Spring breezes and their drunken guest:

today we were meant for each other.”




We met once, breeze and guest,

meant for each other.

Then done. Months. Nothing.




“It’s like a bird among clouds:

once gone, gone without a trace.”




I never remember exactly the face

of someone I love. Only later, a trace.




“I hoard the sky a setting sun leaves . . .”






Sun sets for an hour,

gauze-clouds, layered lightly,

every color eye has ever seen,

or one color through many eyes:

what’s left in the sky after light

memory hopes to hoard . . .




“I can’t tell anymore. Which is long and which is            short,

the river flowing east or thoughts farewell brings on.”




Impossible to say exactly when day

turns night, is not now but then,

not farewell but what farewell brings on.




“Over Heaven Mountain, the bright moon

rises through a boundless sea of clouds.”




Tonight a bright moon rises,

same clouds, different boundless sea,

sunset sky unremembered.




“I sing, watch cloud and moon, empty

song soon long wind through pine.”




Cloud and moon, long wind,

soon empty song sing.




“There’s nothing left now–only this West River


that once lit those who peopled the imperial Wu                         Palace.”




Moonlight moves through air,

then nothing left,

not even memory of moonlight.




“And somewhere, high in a tower tonight,

a restless woman cries out in half sleep.”




We always know exactly

when a lover stops loving.

Just listen: tonight, restless,

she cries out in half sleep.





#19: 9/6/16





“Staying the night at Summit-Top Temple

you can reach out and touch the stars.


I venture no more than a low whisper

afraid I’ll wake the people of heaven.”




Sky so Star-River-near tonight,

no moon, yet all-night light.


Words back up, breath

holds, not even a whisper,

so no stars get jarred

awake, make people of heaven,

reach down, stay the night.




“No noise, no confusion–all I want is

this life pillowed high in emerald mist.”





#20: 9/6/16





“Are hopes and dreams any different?

We bustle around, looking for what?”




Last night in a dream

an old lover told me again

everything wrong with me,

why she was leaving with him.


I woke bereft.

Those who hurt most keep

seeping in through sleep,

come and go as they please.


I fear who waits for me

upstairs tonight, Li.

I fight to keep sleep away,

eyes tired, trying to close

even as I type this line.





“Are hopes . . . any different?”




Hope goes both ways:

holds out for the god

I don’t now know,

holds in the devil

I do know, wish-maker,

looking . . . for what?





#21: 9/7/16





“Facing ten-thousand-mile winds, autumn geese leaving,

we can still laugh and drink in this tower tonight,


chant poems of Immortality Land, ancient word-            bones.

The clarity of Hseih T’iao reappears among us:


all embracing, thoughts breaking into free flight,

we ascend azure heaven, gaze into a bright moon.


But slice water with a knife, and water still flows,

empty a winecup to end grief, and grief remains grief.


You never get what you want in this life, so why not

shake your hair loose on a boat at play in dawn light.”




Those geese: letters from home?

When home is azure heaven, they will never

make it, wind ten-thousand miles facing.


These poems: my knife slicing water

over and over. Grief remains grief, flows.


You get what you get in this life, not want.


Word-bones build poems. But breath,

yours, hers, broke long ago into free flight.

Immortality is not a Land I know how to find.


I can gaze into a bright moon all night long

laugh and drink in this empty tower,

shake my hair loose at play of dawn light.


But nothing, not even clarity, reappears.




“We the living, we’re passing travelers:

it’s in death alone that we return home.”





I had a home here. Now, adrift,

passing, the way looks long





“Bleached bones lie silent, say nothing,

and how can ever-green pines see spring?”




Word-bones lie, too, Li, or say nothing.

Like ever-green pines, they never see spring.




“Before and after pure lament, this life’s

phantom treasure shines beyond knowing.”




I want to believe you, Li. I remember

when “before” was, treasure beyond knowing.

But tell me: when is “after?”





#22: 9/8/16





“At our gate, where you lingered long,

moss buried your tracks one by one,


deep green moss I can’t sweep away.

And autumn’s come early. Leaves fall.”

.  .  .

“Hsien Mountain rises above emerald Han River

waters and snow-white sand. On top, inscribed


to life’s empty vanishing, a monument stands,

long since blotted out beneath green moss.”

.  .  .

“There’s a flake of rock on Chiang-tzu Peak,

a painted screen azure heaven sweeps clean.


The poem inscribed here keeps all boundless

antiquity alive–green words in moss brocade.




This summer was so hot and wet

moss is everywhere, fallen logs,




flagstone steps, sidewalk cracks,

layered on forest floor,

so soft, thick, lavish, I want to

caress it lovingly, lie in its lap,

linger long on its lush-forever green.


Footsteps, monuments, words,

whatever these poems are,

swept away, buried, blotted out

vanishing. No matter.


Love rises like Hsien Mountain,

sweeps clean heaven’s painted screen,

brocade boundless,

flows like Han River

shining by snow-white sand,

carves lines inscribed to life.




“my ruins of heart,

thoughts of you unending.”







#23: 9/9/16




“9/9, out drinking on Dragon Mountain,

I’m an exile among yellow blossoms smiling.


Soon drunk, I watch my cap tumble in wind,

dance in love–a guest the moon invites.”




9/9 here today, too, Li,

no holiday to climb

Dragon Mountain, get drunk

on chrysanthemum wine,

yellow blossoms smiling,

cap-tumble love-dance,

no, just another day, unless

I make something of it

finish this book, say,

write one last poem,

a long one, call it done,

20-some poems in 10 days,

not in your league maybe,

“100 poems/gallon of wine”

Tu Fu says of you, but

for me, 0-for-20-years

going in, not half bad!


OK, back where it started,

those chrysanthemums, not wine

yet, that was later, took time.

I’ll rewrite the first poem

I made just for her, this time

“I” and “you” instead of “he” and “she:”


Crazy as the wind I was and wanted,

for myself, nothing; but for you:

the most glorious chrysanthemums,

armloads of yellow held loose, huge

blooms oozing dollops of sunlight;

behind them, my smile, so wide

no one, not even you, could ever hope

to resist; then I’d run toward you

through the tall grass, in slo-mo

maybe, my dozens of chrysanthemums

bobbing every which way, crazy

as the wind I was, and wanted.

Or so I told my florist in the morning,

who recommended roses, or a nosegay–

anything but crazy, but chrysanthemums,

but what I wanted, was: the wind.


That florist was a moron.

What wind we were!

Crazy every which way.

Your sunlight dollops,

my smile wide. I wanted:

Nothing but for you.


Even on this dark-as-your-hair

night, late summer heat stifling,

no moon, stars haze-hidden,

leaves leaden, locked in place,

nothing running even slow-mo,

if I stand stock-still long enough,

focus just at the edge where

cheek-skin meets with air,

it’s there. Feel it? There, now,

there! a little breeze, a breath,

mine, yours, who’s to say,

what’s left of all that crazy wind.




“Yesterday was our grand scale-the-heights day,

and this morning I’m tipping the cup again.


Poor chrysanthemums. No wonder you’re so bitter,

suffering our revels these two days straight.”




Today is still today where I am, Li,

not yet yesterday. My cup stays full

no matter how often I tip it,

mums not yet poor here, bitter.


I would take this day two days straight,

revel in it every day, forever.

9/9: tomorrow always on the wing!




“Success or failure, life long or short:

our fate’s given by Changemaker at birth.


But a single cup evens out life and death,

our ten thousand concerns unfathomed,


and once I’m drunk, all heaven and earth

vanish, leaving me suddenly alone in bed,


forgetting that person I am even exists.

Of all our joys, this must be the deepest.”





You look so relaxed there,

lounging on your log

on my dining room table

looped in a halo of gold,

cup hoisted to welcome me

every time I sit down to eat.

Maybe you drink all day long,

forgetting you exist,

all heaven and earth vanished,

when I’m not here, too.

Or maybe, like me,

you remember everything,

every single second of every

single day, today, yesterday,

even tomorrow, the one

that never seems to come,

ten thousand concerns

unfathomed, long or short,

that flood of life that recedes

every night, same way,

suddenly, in bed alone,

the forgetting, the deep,

I-am-less joy of sleep.





“How is it you’ve gotten so thin . . .

Must be all those poems you’ve been suffering over.”




Actually I’ve put on a few pounds,

maybe enjoying meals more

now you’re around.

I must just sound thin,

old siren winding

down whining.




“This is music enough. Why tell

flutes and pipes our troubles?”




You’re right, Li:

When old flutes and pipes

get tired of blowing out

the muck we blow into them,

time for a change.


I have a new guitar,

let’s give it whirl:

“Fairy tales can come true,

it can happen to you . . .”


Yes, Li, to you.

And to me, too, me, too.




“Boundless, I can dwindle time and space

away, losing the world in such distances!”




Yeah, yeah, I know. I can, too.

Dwindling space and time,

might sound hard but it’s not,

especially at our age,

dwindling as we speak!


Lose the world? Sure,

I can go for that,

at least the world

handed out to us here,

so near to nothing

I can’t believe anyone

takes it seriously.

If you don’t lose that,

for a while anyway,

get up where it’s clear,

you’ll never even know

a real world is there.

But until you get

back down again,

all the way in,

what you saw up here

won’t much matter.


You can stay drunk

as you want, Li,

long as you want,

float your little boat

through great gorges

all the way to Timbuktu.

But there’s still a here

here, a now now.


I’m no space-time Einstein,

but sooner or later,

you have to look to see,

take the path to make it.

So how about, for once,


we try to beef up time

and space, fill it, full as

we can, real me and

real you, at our real table,

putting on pounds so

we take up more space,

sing sweet old songs,

nothing in them but

perfectly pitched noise,

to mark off one now,

then another, and another,

all that time is, really,

a rhythm, a wave, moving,

one we make and ride

in the making: now, now,

now, marking note by note

all the time it takes.




“I bow, then bow again, deeper, ashamed

I haven’t an immortal’s talent.”




I think we both

can take a bow now, Li.

Immortal’s talent?

Out of my league, too.


Ashamed? Well, elegy

gets old, at least for

those who listen.


Let’s call it off today,

9/9, your wine-wine day,

my stop whine-whine day!


Right while I was typing

that stupid joke, yes:


Feel it? the air,

the instant I made myself

laugh, moving again,

not fast-forward-fast

maybe, totally tomorrow,

but not just a little breath

either, tickling cheek-hair;

this one’s a big one,

wind, then another

and another . . .




Tonight, Li, I’m not in love

with anyone but me.


And I have a feeling,

when I wake up tomorrow,

it won’t still be today.

It will really be tomorrow:

9/10: the rest of my life.


So what-say,

after I come back

from my morning walk,

if you’re not too hung-over

from all that mum-wine,

when I sit down

here with my oatmeal,

we just talk about sports,

those Buccos, lost another

tough one. I’d like that.

I think you might like it, too.



Lines quoted from The Selected Poems of Li Po, trans. by David Hinton (New Directions, 1996):



Poem #2: P. 4, lines 1-2; P. 5, lines 7-8

Poem #3: p. 6, lines 7-8; p. 7, lines 1-4

Poem #4: p. 17, lines 1-4

Poem #6: p. 13, lines 3-8

Poem #7: p. 28, lines 1-8

Poem #8: p. 27, lines 1-4

Poem #9: p. 18, lines 1-4; lines 11-12

Poem #10: p. 21, lines 1-8

Poem #11: p. 9, lines 5-10

Poem #12: p. 9, lines 1-4

Poem #13: p. 43, lines 3-4, 7-10, 13-14

Poem #14: p. 9, lines 5-10 (same as #11)

Poem #16: p. 30, lines 9-10; p. 50, lines 7-8; p. 67, lines 3-4

Poem #17: p. 79, lines 5-8; p. 63, lines 1-2

Poem #18: p. 31, lines 7-8; p. 25, lines 3-4; p. 24, line 1; p. 34,

lines 7-8, p. 26, lines 1-2-, p. 24 lines 5-6, p. 33, lines 3-4

Poem #19: p. 11, lines 1-2; p. 19, lines 7-8

Poem #20: p. 30, lines 9-10 (same as #16)

Poem #21: p. 71, lines 3-12, p. 110, lines 1-2, p. 110, lines 7-10

Poem #22: p. 12, lines 19-20, p. 13, lines 1-2, p. 17, lines 5-8;

  1. 80, lines 5-8; p. 48, lines 12-13

Poem #23: p. 97, lines 1-4; p. 48, lines 12-13; p. 98, lines 1-4;

  1. 45, lines 5-12; p. 54, lines 3-4; p. 85, lines 9-10;
  2. 37, lines 1-4