from ‘The Yellow Emperor Poems’

By | 1 December 2009

1. fu bao's constellation

The arrival of the monsoon―
warring tribes forced south
the black-back frogs returned.
She heard the rounded cluck
of their swollen throats.
Jade slippered-feet
down eighty-nine steps
the heat of the day
still on the temple wall.

Then the light, the light,
the holy light

flaming the valley
silenced frogs all at once
struck Fu Bao
out of abstraction
a luminous sting
circling from behind
the throne of seven stars
white light that broke
into pieces
and travelled the ground
to charge at corpuscles
charging like Henan stallions
rearing up, arrived soft-hoofed
at the stable door
of her blood chamber.

She collected only red and
white stars that night
threaded them loosely
around her waist
felt them reach up
for her breast, down
to the tiger grotto.

 

2. women would believe

First month―
The seamstress teased
insisted she would stitch
Fu Bao's eyes closed
if she did not
dream of dandelions
taken to the sky
by a benevolent wind.

Second month―
The wild-storm girl with
bleeding gums whispered
pluck the blue feathers
of kingfishers
weave them into a seal
the shape of peach flowers.
Live in a quiet residence
undisturbed by males.

Third month―
For a son
practice shooting arrows
an old woman's counsel
smooth river-rocks falling
from her apron
offered as apples.

Fourth month―
Unknown woman;
do not eat rabbit.

Fifth month―
The widow who beat
her daughters said
stay away from strangers.

Sixth month―
All the nodding bent-double
field-women agreed that
to make the child's spine strong
go to the country side
and look at wild horses.

Seventh month―
Insistent, her mother
would not let her bathe
in the morning under
dripping eaves
in her qing-blue tub
or at any time.

Eighth month―
She was told
by the six-nippled fox
who surrendered the family's chickens
avoid grimacing
or shouting.

Ninth month―
When the melon is ripe
it will fall off the vine
sung her grandmother
like a yellow bird
as she snuffed
the evening candles.

 

3. firebird

Lei Zu never saw the mountain
open its twilight belly
to release the firebird into the sky.
They said that giant creature
with her grandfather's brow
wings like a horizon cloud
tail of spinning planets
eyes of winter sun
sent from heaven only
in times of greatest fortune.

It hovered the valley
above her ancestor's fields
as she peered into the throat
of a snow-bud
tiny horns rearing back
to slap a late-summer missile
onto a bee.

A fisherman said
the bird visited the river
to slake the bell flowers
of honeysuckle
that ignited the embankment.
Flowers, wind-loving
in the last gloaming light.
She noticed their pink-quiver
their swollen skirts.

And how all flowers
appeared as virtues
peonies in faithful sway
the wu-wei of dragonheads
violet-hued rehmannia and the courage
of their blood-quickening tubers
clustered, dusk-spells
in meadow grass.

The first time the bird appeared
did she ask how much of life
is spent in waiting?

as it landed silent
on the empress tree
displaced two leafs
goose-breast almost reachable
seemed to blow away the clouds
enough fading sun
to brighten up
the gaps between its feathers
a repousse of cerulean
unfaded reds, bijou ochres
beyond her acquaintance
of colour or form.
Then it was gone.

Her betrothed smiled
as Lei Zu's story panted its drama
from beautiful spaces
between her lips
like the plum-blossom
he saw that day
taken by the wind
graceful, announcing
its own history.

 

4. lei zu & the discovery of silk

Was it a hand that released her sash
or the wind that swept it eastward?
It fell like a snake
landed like an arrow aimed at the river.

Did her gown open in its own time
or did the peaks of her breast-points swell
to breathful bounty, that all clothes
became possibly impossible?

His fingertips like butterfly antennae
lifting in plucked suspension
considered all surface options
testing the layers outside of thought.

On a leaf above, one worm
a winged-cloud stuck in its throat
cocked its head, praised her behind its eye
yet the mystery of adoration
too difficult for the air of its short life
returned to its patch.

It took four seasons of waiting
before the catkins' spores
quick-shot faster than a trilling flute note
to thicken the air, swirling
as if discharged by
the pulse-beat of bodies,
dust-motes unpressured
in an uninstructed breeze.

That day it was said
an unceremonious cocoon
fell into her teacup opening its twine
to find her finger,
a billowing strand trailing
from a chrysanthemum sea
―a song for her emperor―
thread-written on blue sky

Like a night jar, I tremble in flight
follow a stream from Kunlun mountain
to the dark river's mouth
I ask the dawn hidden in reeds
to renounce honour
withhold its flame to keep you here.

What was the sun's collaboration?
Only the hearsay of doves
on a mulberry bough
doves that refused gossip,
yet Lei Zu stitched their beaks
on his battle coat
her visionary silk-armour,
to madden
the four-headed stone-eating beast.

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