Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Li Shangyin, Translated, in Zion

On Virgin’s Red Mountains

“On Virgin’s Bed Mountain, / No tree lacks a perched phoenix.”

The trailheads are empty at dawn.
One of fantasy’s shortcomings

Is that it tends to third person—
We imagine what would sound good

For ourselves as someone other,
But a triumphant summary

Of fortune and accomplishment 
Lacks the feel of, say, high country

Accomplishing nothing beyond
Gilded orange clouds at sunrise.

Then what is it this sunrise lacks
That the mind should keep tiptoeing

Off to imaginary scenes
That play out in a baffled head

As catalogues and announcements
And one-sided conversations?

Maybe it’s trying to keep warm,
An engine idling by itself.

There are no deer on the mesa.
Nothing is visibly moving.

Light rising from Wildcat Summit
Bursts the egg of morning’s phoenix.

Extravagant Instruments

When the sun warmed the indigo mesa,
Jade-purple clouds rose like smoke from the cliffs.

Before notation captured history,
Landscapes lit up with extravagant myths

Of ancient peaks impossible to cross
In which immortal spirit musicians

Played fifty, one-hundred, ten-thousand-stringed
Woods, intoning storm winds’ moaning visions.

Now, any spirit not gilded and caged
Has flown into space. It’s better this way.

Fancies dressed forests in comprehension
When woods had no reasons, nothing to say.

At noon, old snows reflect on meltwater ponds,
Entrancing and wavering, already gone.

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