Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Three Poems

Ezra Pound in China

(To the memory of the T'ang poet Li Po
who drowned in the year 762 AD,
drunk, his spirit all over the heavens,
diving from the side of a boat
to embrace the reflected moon.)

Bright moonlight falling on my bed
gleams like frost upon the ground:

Lifting my head I remember
how silly, how human you were,
immortal now, made part of the splendid folly
with which you died: the beauty
lingers, I smile and salute you,
raising (again) the parting glass
to the true-man of Shi-yo,
to the undimmed voice.

China -- delicate, unreal, as distant
as the rattle of teacups in the soft
sunlight of vicarage gardens,
enshrouded now in fragile sepia
with other dull unbending times
and a thousand times a thousand
passions, sweaty battles and couplings:
the strain, the hopes, the failure.

But you, your China chose you well
and armed with its lean and lucid
tongue, you set off for distant cloudcut mountains
with wine, and with close companions,
over roads that were twisted like sheep's guts,
until the red-faced foreman of Kan-chu
came staggering out to greet you
at the river bridge;

then the road led on to the willow temple,
to food on jewelled tables,
to the sound of flutes and drums;
and the crimsoned girls were getting drunk about sunset
by waters as clear as blue jade
rippling . . . softly rippling,
and all this comes to an end (you said),
and will never again be met with:

All this comes to an end .....

Lifting my head I see the bright moon,
I lower it, thinking, thinking.

(The first two and last two lines are my own (loose) translation of a poem by Li Po known to every homesick Chinese in the world.)

On the Road to Kandahar

Three hours by the side of the road,
falling snow, grieving people,
no sign of the idiot driver; a jeep
came by with soldiers; they piled
in the foreigners and the badly injured
and me with a teenage boy in my arms.
(his gaze had locked on my strange foreign eyes)
Allah, Allah, he moaned
as I held him tight, and begged
him to hold on, begged
from my horrified infidel heart.

His eyes.

In Afghanistan
the landscape is unforgiving;
very harsh and rough, tones of browny-grey,
and you discover that time doesn't move
quickly, unlike in the movies
where events happen one after another,
quickly, in rapid succession.
It took three long hours
to get back to Herat.
Three hours
with a dead boy cradled in my arms.

The Heat of India

The heat of India
is unendurable, it drives you
to the boats on the Ganges
where slight breezes blow
in the evenings, and you awake
among strangers,
gummy-eyed in the sunrise.

The night the body bumped
alongside, female, bloated, dead,
we shoved it aside with an oar
and went back to sleep.
In the morning we awoke
to the cries of vultures
and gazed in horror.