A small island
In a sea of secrets, some
As big as a blue whale, others
As tiny as a sand flea,
Dangerous conversations fuelled
By Ten Pennies and Crown Royal,
Accented words echoing stark
Rhythms, as endless as the water and sky
When they merge into that singular colour—
The one that means reflected need.
Remind me one more time,
Why did we all hurry to leave?
A couple have since returned
Like the eagles, the cormorants and the crows,
To find such purpose as may be found, perched
Beside eroding red cliffs,
The rest of us
Singly, or in small groups,
But rarely in the autumn,
After the yellowing leaves have all fallen,
When we might eavesdrop
On the sky as it comes right down
In cold, streaking tears
To trouble the waters
With whispers of woe and wonder.
Tune: Bowl of Green Jade
A Fortuitous Meeting
by Li Qingzhao
Haste not back so soon!
No glimpse yet of Handan Road 1
For all our peregrinations.
Autumn wind so dreary,
How are we to while our days away?
A drink under a clear window,
An idle chat beside a dim lamp,
Would be the ideal way to relax.
Each laments her declining years as we meet,
Chanting many a new verse with thrilling rhymes—
Poetic talent a family tradition people much prize.2
Now frail and decrepit,
Nothing remains to me but profuse tears
Falling like rain in the season of yellowing plums.
1 Legend has it that a scholar named Lu, while travelling on Handan Road, met a Taoist priest who gave him a magic pillow. When he went to sleep, he dreamed that he passed several decades living in wealth and prosperity. But on waking he found that the pot of millet he had left boiling on the stove was not yet done.
2 One day Xie An the Imperial Tutor (c. third century) was at home with his nephew Xie Lang and niece Xie Taoyun when it suddenly began to snow. He asked each of them good-humoredly what the snowflakes looked like. Xie Lang thought they might be likened to grains of salt dropped from the air. But Taoyun said the simile wasn’t so good as ‘willow catkins whirling in the wind’. Thenceforth ‘salt and willow catkin’ came to be regarded as a family tradition of literary talent.
Translated by Jiaosheng Wang.
Qīng yù àn Lǐ Qīngzhào
Zhēng ān bùjiàn hándān lù. Mò biàn cōngcōng guī qù. Qiū zhèng xiāotiáo héyǐ dù. Míng chuāng xiǎo zhuó, àn dēng qīng huà, zuì hǎo liúlián chù. Xiāngféng gèzì shāng chímù. Dú bǎ xīnshī sòng qí jù. Yán xù jiā fēng  rén suǒ xǔ. Rújīn qiáocuì, dàn yú shuāng lèi, yī sì huáng méiyǔ.
Green/jade/vessel Li Qinzhao
Jounery/saddle/not/see/Han-dan/road, Do not/easily/hurry-hurry/return/go. Autumn/just/bleak/desolate/which/manner/pass. Brigh/window/small-talk, dim/lamp/light/clear/talk, most/good/linger-on/place. Chance-meeting/each-one/wounded/past-prime. Alone/seize/new/poetry/recite aloud/wonderful/phrases. Salt/willow catkin/household/fashion/people/therein/praise. As of/now/thin/pallid, yet/remains/a pair/tears, one/resemble/yellow/plum/rain.
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