Poetry / December 2013 (Issue 22)

Three Poems

by Eliot Weinberger

Ou-Yang Hsiu's Fu on The Sound of Autumn (1069)
Sent to a post in the far northeast, I, Ou-yang Hsiu, was studying my books by lamplight.
Cold winds come from the north, the winds that bring rain come from
       the east, but I heard the rumors of a sound from the southwest.
I listened in trepidation. I said to myself “how strange.”
First, a soft breeze, a light rain, then suddenly the sound of rushing, of
       huge stones colliding, of waves crashing.
The sound of water gushing, an alarm spreading through the night,
       wind and rain pushing toward some finality.
Drumbeats, bells ringing, iron clanging against gold, everything in harm’s way.
And a low sound of soldiers hurrying to the siege: the hooves of the
       horses muffled, no orders shouted, just a steady tramping forward.
I told the boy: “What is that sound? Go out and see.”

The boy said:
“The stars and moon are clear and bright. The Milky Way lies across the
       sky. On all four sides no sound of people. The only sound is in the trees.”

I said: “How sad.
It is the sound of autumn. Why does autumn ever come?
Autumn is pale and cruel. Smoke rises, clouds gather.
Even when skies are bright, autumn is bitter, piercing flesh and piercing bone.
Everything is alone: the world of mountains and rivers becomes empty and still.
The sound of autumn is cold. It is the sound of grief, the sound of sudden wailing.

“Once there were the delicate patterns of thick grass.
Once there was green shade lying under the trees.

“Autumn touches the grass and its color fades. Autumn touches the trees and the leaves fall.
It cannot help but destroy. Its nature is corrosive.
Its occupation is executioner. Its badge is darkness.
Its color may be gold, but its sword is steel.
It is the pitiless justice of heaven and earth: to kill with cold.

“The sound of autumn is a flute sound, a sad song, the sound of things
       being hurt, the sound of things past their prime that will soon be put to death.

“Trees and grass don’t care. The moment arrives, the wind changes, and they die.
But a man thinks, his heart aches, the endless things wear him down.
He is adrift and yet– the sperm still rises.
He craves that which is unreachable.
He imagines spreading his wisdom among the impractical.

“His bright face has turned to dead wood, his black hair white as stars.
We are not made of metal and stone, why should we dream of
       outlasting the trees and grass?
Why should we hate the sound of autumn?”

The boy did not answer. He had fallen asleep.
Inside the four walls I could hear the chrrr. . . chrrr. . . of insects gnawing. 
From a Hymn to the Goddess of the Three Cities

O speck of dust from your lotus feet
O island city of the sun
O waterfall of ghee
O bow made of flowers
O bowstring of bees
O daughter of snow mountain
O coral-tree blossom
O necklace of wishing-jewels
O forest of wishing-trees
O refuge from the world
O lotus of a thousand petals
O full-blown blue lotus
O moon of musk
O liquid drop from a moonstone
O world drinking moonlight
A waterfall of nectar falls from the flowers of the mind

O eyes as shy as a forest deer
O body slender as a lightning bolt
O streak of vermillion in the part of your hair
O curling hair beautiful as young bees
O hair untied and flowing
O forehead like a second half-moon
O eyebrows slightly arched
O eyes like bees
(Day dawns in your right eye
                                 Night falls in your left
and your third eye is the twilight)
O feathery eyelashes disrupting tranquility
The world is created when you open your eyes
and dissolves when you close them

O the three creases in your neck
O your four arms soft and slender as the filament of a lotus
O the loveliness of your hands
O your breasts like ruby jars of nectar
O the clothes slipping from your breasts
O the sweating curves of your breasts
O the deep pool of your navel
O the line of abdominal hair like a ripple on a river
O your thighs like golden plantain stalks
O your well-rounded knees
O the soft jangle of your anklets
O the streams of nectar flowing between your feet
O your lotus feet set upon my head

The morning sun opens lotus clusters in the minds of great poets
bright as moonstone slivers   sweet as milk and ghee    sweet
as the lotus fragrance of the mouth of the Queen of Speech
and your earrings slightly jangle as you listen and nod your head
keeping time in wonder and delight    your shining earrings
like little moons reflecting the brightness of your cheeks

You are mind you are space you are the wind and the fire the wind carries
You are the waters and the earth   there is nothing more
This lightless world is flooded with your radiance

The World
[2nd Century BCE]

To the north are the People Who Walk on Tiptoes, the Deep-Eyed
        People, the People    Without Anuses, and the One-Eyed People.
To the south are the People With Bound Breasts, the Winged People,
        the Naked People, the Cross-Legged People, the Pierced-Breast People, the People
        Who Never Die, the Tongue-Tied People, the Hog-Snouted People,
        the Chisel-Toothed People, the Three-Headed People, and the People
        With Long Arms.
To the west are the Sky People, the White People, the Male People, the
        Female People, the People with Long Thighs, the People With
        One Leg, the People With One Arm, and the People With Three
To the east is the Black-Toothed People, the Dark-Legged People, the
        Hairy People, and the Hardworking People.

The people in the north are as stupid as animals but live long.
The people in the south mature early but die young.
The people in the west are daring but not humane. The men have
        unfortunate faces and misshapen necks, but they walk with dignity.
The people in the east are tall and large. They become knowledgeable
        early but do not live long.
The people in the center are clever and sagelike. They consider beards
        beautiful and dislike obesity.

There is a mountain called Hanging Gardens.
If you manage to climb it, you will be able to control the wind and the rain.
There is a mountain called Cool Wind.
If you manage to climb it, you will never die.

The Great Meadow, known as the Impenetrable;
the Misty Meadow;
the Endless Meadow, known as the Great Dream;
the Island of Wealth;
the Meadow of Springs, known as the Nine Districts;
the Ocean of Meadow, known as Bactria;
the Frozen Meadow, known as the Great Obscurity.

The Harmonious Hill, known as the Wasteland;
the Forest of Thorns;
the Horde of Women, known as the Great Destitution;
the Backwards-Facing Doors;
the Fiery Earth, known as Scorched Pygmies;
the Fertile Wilderness, known as Metal Hill;
the Place of Sands called One Eye;
the Gathering Ice, called Abandoned Wings.

In the northeast is the Land of Beginning Again.
In the east is the Land of Seclusion.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.