Stagnant Water & Other Poems: Excerpt

book cover: Stagnant Water and Other Poems

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I’ll love you till the seas dry, the stones rot…
You pledge by the sun, by returning pairs
of geese swear loyalty. I believe you. Even if you break
passionately into tears, I won’t be taken back.
But if you say till the seas dry, stones rot,
I’d die laughing. Isn’t this short time we have together
enough to intoxicate me? And you say forever?
Love, you know I have only one passing desire:
Come, embrace me tightly! Hurry! Oh, go, go…
I’m on to this trick—nothing’s changed—
your forever belongs to someone else—the chaff’s for me—
another has your essence, your eternal spring.
You don’t believe me? The day Death summons you
you’ll go, you’ll go into his embrace—you’ll talk to him
of your till seas dry, stones rot, undying fidelity.


Perhaps you’re tired crying.
Perhaps you need to rest awhile.
I’ll tell the owls not to cough,
frogs not to shout, the bats not to fly.
I won’t let sunlight pry your eyelids,
a breeze touch your brow. Nothing
will disturb you. The umbrella
of a pine tree shades your sleep.
Perhaps you hear earthworms
chew the soil, grass rootlets sip water.
Perhaps you find this music more
pleasing than our quibbling voices.
Then tightly close your eyes…
I’ll let you sleep; I’ll let you sleep.
I’ll cover you gently with yellow earth,
burn paper offerings so they softly fly.


(May 1922, the time of the warlords)
Sunset bequeaths a troubling night.
The poet forces night to give up its secrets:
Dew scatters beneath the sky’s purple vault;
the poet thinks: beads to be strung for the chests of the dead.
An icy wind rakes the desiccated hair of a starving willow.
Lamplight reflected in a pond twists like a snake.
Hanging mid-mountain, a horribly crippled cypress
stiffly shakes its black, skinny fists, challenges air.
The frogs haven’t slept. Shouldn’t they be tired?
They croak the swamp’s battle hymns even louder.
All those village dogs bark with such agony.
Why can’t they break the courage of the thieves?
A dragon chews fire, spits smoke, claws up an iron ladder.
An army train lugs its war cargo, screams as if alive.
The night watch clangs his bronze-tongued, stone bell,
tells everyone, “Relax, go back to sleep.” And they believe it!
Hey God! Can’t you see this degraded universe?
Can’t you feel its chill? Hey, Benevolent God!

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