Poetry / November 2011 (Issue 15)

The River-Merchant's Wife: Her Last Letter

by Judith Toler

            After Li Po/Ezra Pound

The golden leaves fell early this autumn      
and cold has silenced the crickets.
Your mother won’t stop weeping, grows angry
when she looks at my flat belly, makes me sweep
over and over again the empty corners.
No tea I ever make is sweet enough for her mouth.       

Three times a day I climb the watch-tower
searching for you, though boats are few this time of year
and winter winds pull at my clothes.  
I shiver, longing to stay warm by the fire,
but when the messenger arrives from far Ku-to-Yen,
I wrap myself tight in robes, gather some
small things for the long journey to meet you.

On the road, the cherry blossoms burst into pink clouds,
bloom then fade and fall too quickly to the ground.
I want to paste them back onto the branches.

At seventeen I reach the swirling waters of Chu-tang.
I am tired and lie down on soft grass by the shore,
watch for you among the river dolphins
while high above us, at the rim of the steep gorge
temple bells ring and monkeys make sounds
like cries from heaven.
Through the shallows, I carry to you, My Lord, this letter,
your bamboo flute, two tiny cups to hold plum wine,
tea leaves, a few grains of rice in an earthen bowl,
straw from the mat that was our bed.

The swirling water loosens my hair.
From the sleeves of my white robe spill offerings
to the dragons of the river Kiang—
cowrie shells and sweets, a lotus blossom, blue pebbles—
prayers that the river spirits take pity on us
and kindly monks sail little lanterns on the waves
to light our way to shore,

for I have traveled farther than Cho-fu-Sa to meet you.
I have traveled below the silver belly of the moon.
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.