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The Late Poems of Meng Chiao



Laments of the Gorges





Triple Gorge one thread of heaven over

ten thousand cascading thongs of water,


slivers of sun and moon sheering away

above, and wild swells walled-in below,


splintered spirits glisten, a few glints

frozen how many hundred years in dark


gorges midday light never finds, gorges

hungry froth fills with peril. Rotting


coffins locked into tree roots, isolate

bones twist and sway, dangling free,


and grieving frost roosts in branches,

keeping lament's dark, distant harmony


fresh. Exile, tattered heart all scattered

away, you'll simmer in seething flame


here, your life like fine-spun thread,

its road a trace of string traveled away.


Offer tears to mourn the water-ghosts,

and water-ghosts take them, glimmering.






Water swords and spears raging in gorges,

boats drift across heaving thunder. Here


in the hands of these serpents and snakes,

you face everyday frenzies of wind and rain,


and how many fleeing exiles travel these

gorges, gorges rank inhabitants people?


You won't find a heart beneath this sheen,

this flood that's stored away aftermath


forever. Arid froth raising boundless mist,

froth all ablaze and snarling, snarling—


what of that thirst for wisdom when you're

suddenly here, dead center in these waters. 





Autumn Thoughts





Lonely bones can't sleep nights. Singing

insects keep calling them, calling them.


And the old have no tears. When they sob,

autumn weeps dewdrops. Strength failing


all at once, as if cut loose, and ravages

everywhere, like weaving unraveled,


I touch thread-ends. No new feelings.

Memories crowding thickening sorrow,


how could I bear southbound sails, how

wander rivers and mountains of the past?






Bamboo ticking in wind speaks. In dark

isolate rooms, I listen. Demons and gods


fill my frail ears, so blurred and faint I

can't tell them apart. Year-end leaves,


dry rain falling, scatter. Autumn clothes

thin cloud, my sick bones slice through


things clean. Though my bitter chant

still makes a poem, I'm withering autumn


ruin, strength following twilight away.

Trailed out, this fluttering thread of life:


no use saying it's tethered to the very

source of earth's life-bringing change.

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