Poetry / September 2015 (Issue 29)

Du Fu On The Lonely Night Boat

by Jonathan Louis Duckworth

The steep hills flanking the river
were to the poet like two hands
that could close together in an instant.

The boatman claimed a greater dimness
awaited further up the river's throat,
that a hundred Li beyond the confluence
of the Cháng Jiāng and the Shennong Stream,
the only fires smoldering on the hills
would be cannibals spit roasting meat.

But was there no lantern
with which to ply this darkness?

There was a lantern, but its lens
was cracked and yellowed
from twenty seasons of ice and smoke.

When next the poet would see this boat,
he would be on the shore, close to blind,
very nearly out of poetry, his ragged clothes
tossed and torn by the winds,
and dead moths filling his pockets.
But that night the young poet swore
to fashion a new lantern lens,
and so he dipped his hand in the wake,
skimming for shards of the moon
broken by the boatman's oar.
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