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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Spring Sleep (a reverie in springtime by Bai Juyi)

Spring takes us right to the edge of a great awakening.  That, at least, is the way I read this poem by the Tang poet Bai Juyi.  The poet lays down in springtime in perfect repose and finds himself transported.  This poem is the record of his journey.

Freshly bathed
Loose of limb
Alone I lay down
In peaceful contentment

By virtue of the night
Deeply enfolded in rest
After day’s long commotion
Sleep finally attends me

Oh spring
Sometimes wan and chill
But also by warmth blessed
When dawn enters the casement
I’m slumbering still

Withdrawn far from
The world of humanity
Sunk in the pillow’s depth
To the immortal realm ascending

Where I arrive as only seems fit
No longer dreaming
But overwhelmed and
Of speech completely bereft

As in a moment of triumph
To stumble drunkenly
All desire ends up over matched
In the pure stream of Chan

What cry then awakens me
A passing shrike
Outside the window
That breaks the reverie

Rising to my family
Wife and children laughing
A lifetime of spring gaiety
Yet a vaster realm
Has slipped away


新浴肢体     独寝神魂安
况因夜深坐     遂成日高眠
春被薄亦暖     朝窗深更
却忘人     似得枕上仙
至适无梦想     大和名言
何物呼我     声关关
起来妻子笑     春茫然

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spring Comes Alive (by Bai Juyi)

This is a Tang poem about spring written by Bai Juyi that I translated this morning.  It shows the sympathetic fallacy at work in reverse, with the poet drawn into a springtime reverie through which he experiences his own renewal.  It just goes to prove we are transparent to nature, forward and back - and we have been that way for a very long time.

Spring comes alive in the darkness
That everywhere abounds

To the far ends of the earth
Everything revives from its rest

First a gentle breeze
Imparts the news

Encouraging the birds to share
Their innermost thoughts

The grasses open and expatiate  
Color stretches along the riverbank

Flowers adorn the houses
And small flowering shrubs

It’s as if I had been transported
Back to my childhood home

As if my story too had returned
To its humble start in Jiang Zhou

Photo by M. Bridge





Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Night in the Parrish, January 2017 (People's State of the Union)

This January I had a chance to participate in an event at the Parrish Art Museum called The People's State of the Union.  About 100 East End residents came together at the Museum that night to sit in small circles and tell their personal stories.  Similar gatherings were held in hundreds of communities around the country -  in schools and churches and even private homes.  The idea is for these thousands of stories to be recorded, shared and reflected upon in order to form a collective narrative, built from the bottom up, which can be presented as an alternative to the top-down State of the Union address delivered in Washington.  Poets are invited to participate in the these story circles and write about the experience.  A poet is then selected to deliver a Poetic Address to the Nation.  (You can read more about the PSU and the organization behind it here.)

Poetry for me is a very solitary pursuit so it's pretty unusual for me to participate in an event like this.  Yet I found the whole experience deeply and strangely moving.  Usually when one writes and reads poetry in public you tend to think of it as being a performance art.  But joining together with my neighbors in these circles, our voices mingled as we shared our stories and poems; what emerges from the process is something altogether different in quality, more ceremonial than performance oriented.  Perhaps another way to express the same idea: these stories and poems are more a celebration of what brings us together than a performance that sets any one of us apart.

Tonight I'll be joining ten other poets in reading our State of the Nation poems at the Parrish.  The reading starts at 6 pm so please come by and join us if you are able to.  This is one of the two poems I'll be reading tonight.

Friday Night in the Parrish, January 2017

If Long Island had tilted
A little bit further forward
We would all have been the first
To tumble into the chill Atlantic

My friends -- that’s how we perched
In our chairs that night
Right on the edge of
The eastern extremity

And I wouldn’t have wanted it
Any other way
We’ve always been
Staunchly inclined
In these environs
Buffeted by bad weather
And sometimes self-styled as
Sons and Daughters of Liberty

But now who can say
Which is worse
To feel so estranged
In the land of our birth
Or to be an immigrant
In an immigrant’s land
Scorned and cursed

Not always without fault
But always least inclined
To find fault with
Our fellow humankind
Circles within circles
Like mind with like mind

It’s at times like these
We rediscover our art
Our voices steady
Our vision clears
We reach for pencil and paper
Even as the world around us
Seems to fall apart

It would be treasonous
If it were otherwise
Is what the veteran
Said in the second circle
Sitting right beside me

Let it also be said we felt
Though dizzied  
And fearful
And that much better bonded
As sisters and brothers together
Possessed of the means to thrive   
Even amidst such volatile times