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.
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.