Poems Inspired by Chinese Texts

The Pearl Diver
In an old text on Chinese yoga
A boat drifts ashore
Littered with shells
Moving from dark to light
The mountains shine clear
In the absence of thought
A body rises
Like a hollow ball
The lotus opens to the moon.

From an Old Chinese Text on Yoga
On the mountain without a name
She gathers light

In sleep she sees into her own nature
In the morning she stirs the fire

Pouring the gold with profound simplicity
Her body transparent

The circulation of the light begins

(The above two poems were inspired by The Secret of the Golden Flower, translated by Richard Wilhelm.)

The Long Road to the Capital
The dark daughter of an ancient race
Wears a jade suit
Laced with gold thread

Fierce-looking horsemen
Hold gardenias
And torches

On her legs
Ivory fish swim
In fields of ripe wheat

Maids carry the pearls
Oxen carry the scene

The Ancient Chinese Lady
There is a calm
Where things seem to pour
From one fountain in one lovely stream
So clear you can hear
Strains of madrigals chiming through the spray

There is insomnia
Waiting for a slow gentle breath
Turning again and again in a bed
Whose sheet is always creased
That makes the skin twitch
Like a million starving grasshoppers

The fan makes all things bearable
Even the fly
That makes you cover yourself
In the sweltering heat

The fly is a magician waving his wand
So fast it buzzes with the power
To annoy, hex, curse, render invisible
A poor prince
The magician took a hideous dislike to
An ancient Chinese lady
Whose wash got tangled in a hurricane
And only who wished she could fly after it

text on painting
there are different kinds of mountains:
the light
and the dark
plateaus conical peaks and lofty hills
connected ones called sharp peaks
low tapering ones and groups of small ones

there are triple ranges
double mountains
and massed mountains joined in unbroken chains
as well as long ones with ridges
there are mountains with slopes near the top
with glacial lakes scattered in their foothills
mountains with caves precipices and grottoes
and there are hall-shaped mountains

there are mountains shaped like screens
and small mountains that lie between large ones
but which are not connected
there are also multitudes of small rocks:
dish-like rocks
mountains of obsidian
and mountains of granite
sometimes called monoliths

there are rocks covered with earth
and earth covered with rocks
there are earth mounds slopes and high plains
buttes and humps of cooled lava

in hill and mountain ranges are hidden and exposed forests and springs and a gradual distinction between near and far

there is the valley where nothing passes through
and the one with a stream
there is water that flows between two mountains
and water that trickles between mounds
called a creek

in deep gorges
there is water that sometimes winds
and turns
hidden then exposed
then is seen again
there is water that is sluggish and swift
shallow or deep
water that forms gently moving ripples at the bottom
of a mountain
and that which scours rocks

there is water that leaps and gurgles in spurting springs
from between gorges
and water that cascades from between high cliffs
into unfathomab1e depths where it seethes and swirls
and where even fish and turtles cannot live
there is green spring water
cold summer water
clear autumn water and melancholy winter water

yet all are subtle

(This poem was inspired by an actual text on Chinese painting, whose name I do not remember.)

Poem in the Style of the T’ang Poets
Recently I visited you in Long Island City
Near the East River

You looked the same as always
Although I know you are older

We shook hands and immediately began
Discussing politics, health, blood pressures, and aches and pains

Then we went to the Noguchi Home and Garden
Where we admired the beautiful sculptures

Some were stone–small monoliths; some, cubist
And some were marble in several colors

Why did he live here, we wondered?
Because across the street are stonecutters!

He could walk a few feet, choose his marble
And retreat to his garden hermitage far from the Manhattan art scene

Noguchi’s father was Japanese
His mother American

We walked to a Greek restaurant
Where as always you ate only a little, and I a lot

We met forty years ago at a job where you proofed Chinese scientific journals
And I worked on Russian ones, understanding nothing

We talked: So and so has died, someone else has moved far away,
This one still lives in Brooklyn near the Marina

There is nothing like a friend
You have known more than half your life

When one of them goes, it is as if a star goes dark
Nothing can replace it

At this age I will have to make a new friend today
And live to 107 to know him as long as I have known you

We have translated Chinese poets like Wang Wei
And I have always wondered where you got your open, curious mind

So many people have such limited minds
There can be no conversation past a few words

Once home we exchange a few cards, letters, and calls
But it is not the same as seeing each other in person

Until next time, old friend! Sadness builds
And I must rake a million locust leaves from my lawn.
—-Louisville, CO 7/15/14

Note: Like many far-better-known American, British, and other non-Chinese writers, I have been inspired by Chinese poetry and philosophy.