Poetry / March 2014 (Issue 23)

Two Poems

by Edward Ragg

Sole Food

These tattered old boots still
grip the pock-marked tarmac

and have traipsed, I reflect,
the streets of Moscow,

a Queensland pineapple farm,
the dust-caked alleyways

of Beijing… to arrive
at this point where,

stumbling from memory,
I read my mother’s deft

needlework stitched into
each lace-etched tongue

a name in red capitals:

Eighteen years on
my tongue is initialled

with those same hands and
inscribed with what lies now

between the knots of our reach:
the Mongolian steppes,

the Eastern lakes,
the curious cathedrals

of her origins in
needle-box Swiss chalets.

So if I am ever lost,
she may nominate

my unspoken state,
hauling unspeakable loads

across the broken curbs
of a foreign city.

Planes of Honour

‘It has been more than ten years since my demotion from the imperial prefecture. During this long lull in activity, I have devoted myself to poetry and have accumulated over a thousand poems. Some are allegorical descriptions of objects, valuable only to the blind […] Others, composed at intervals with the help of wine, are short and trivial. It was my hope to embody in my poems profound meaning in simple language, to invent new rhymes and rhythms, to create flawless parallelism without sacrificing sense and feeling. However, I fear I have not been able to attain this goal.’

—Yuan Zhen to the Secretariat-Chancellery, Ling Huchu.

The poem lies on the high official’s desk.
The poem lies on the high poet’s desk.
Each plane shares the hairs of the calligrapher’s hand.
Each hand shares the plane of the calligrapher’s hairs.

And yet, Yuan Zhen, the poem weighs differently
in your hand, feels almost outside, mouths eternally.
And yet, Ling Huchu, the outside weighs differently
in your hand, feels almost inside, mouths poetically.

These cruder planes fall silent in the frustrated night.
Come morning, or ten years on, we may stroke, line
upon line, from the wood pigeon’s dew-sore cooing

to the late bamboo swaying and say: ‘Enough.
The wine is good, the air is bright, my light casts
no imperial tint and yet illuminates the page

of each slumberous official who forgets that bed
is bed and be buried in it. Let the flags blaze
with emblems of bears, tigers and unicorns’.

By then and only then, by a thousand songs
and a thousand scrolls. By one scroll and only then,
the high poem, my father, sounds.
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