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Six poetic “adaptations” from Kenneth Rexroth’s English translation of 100 Poems from the Chinese

in Poetry by

94

Thinking About Not Returning to Work I Read
Lu Yu’s “Leaving the Monastery early in the Morning”

At night I’m so dead
Even murderers stay away.
Zac the cat sleeps
In the forest on my legs.
By dawn usually
I find coffee and news.
Soon my sabbatical will end
Though I’m not quite ready
To greet young minds
Who may wince when
Seeing someone so old.
Tonight it’s beans and wild vegetables
That will help me find
My way back to trouble.

95

After a Stormy Summer Night, I Read
“Rain on the River,” by Lu Yu

We rent a houseboat and motor
Up the Mississippi until dusk.
With little practice we take aim
At a sandbar for the night.
None of us can fish
So we break out the whiskey.
We watch satellites whirl across
The top of the sky, sleep
Until fish start jumping through dawn fog.

96

After Sprucing Up the Yard Some, I Read
“Evening in the Village,” by Lu Yu in the Shade

By the evening sunset our little
Village becomes sleepy
Except for the dogs on guard.
I’m a bit tipsy on cold
Pinot. Soon the moon will rise
Up from our great Lake.
All my hopes and wants
Are buried beneath old day lilies.
No one calls anymore
To hear what once was wisdom.
We sold our horses years
Ago so now I just herd cats.

97

After an Early Morning Run Along the Lakeside I Rest
Old Legs with Lu Yu’s “I Walk Out into the Country at Night”

I seldom think of walking all night
But perhaps I could walk
All the way to downtown then
By morning be on the border.
At night the trees would sway
And make the saddest sounds.
At night singing
Travels further since we
Can’t tell where the voices started from.
By now I don’t know why
I’m here, not home
In bed with covers keeping murderers away.
It’s like this every
Time I’m driving home so late
With only our moon to guide me
All the way back home.
My wife’s still up with her insomnia.
Then we’re both in bed
And the night stays right outside.
Tomorrow we’ll be so much older.

99

After a Summer Lightning Storm,
I Read Lu Yu’s “Night Thoughts”

I do not make the dark
My business as I’m much
Too done in by the day.
If I do stay
Up I’ll let the quiet
Sounds of air conditioning whirr
And the old cat’s pacing lull
Me back into the quiet of the night.
It’s about the only time I’m still
Enough to hear what really
Goes on when I’m not
Around but drifting back to sleep.
I’m not so sure I want to ever
Travel back to my old
Days of robbery or dying in some
Hospital in some meningitis epidemic.
I’m not sure if
Those days were ever happier than now
So why would I go back?

100

After Keeping Company with a Noisy Fly All Night,
I Find Comfort with Lu Yu’s “I Get Up at Dawn”

I am slowly disappearing, so soon
Old friends will have trouble seeing who’s
Inside what was once robust me.
In the morning at the wash basin
I look twice to see
Old skin hanging close to bone.
The hair, if there, would be grey
By now and the eyes look slightly
Retired though inside I’m quite alive.
In the evenings I sip cold wine
And slip my fingers over old
Friends I’ve read and sometimes,
Pull down to smile all over
Again even if some are gone.
I still smell the old
Love poems of ancient Greeks
And wonder why I cherish them
Despite the me who’s almost gone.

Author of two book collections with New Rivers Press and six chapbooks. Ann Stanford Poetry Prize winner, several state arts board awards, a MacDowell Colony fellowship, and Milwaukee dance company performances of several poems. Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin--Whitewater.

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