for Meng Chiao (751–814)

“All has come to nothing,” he writes.
In old age his clothes are tattered and thin,
His hut without a door; sick,
He suffers bad dreams.

I turn to the biography section
To make sense of his bitterness and failure.

                                    “A poet suffers making poems —
                                     better to waste your efforts trying to fly.”

Incompetent at a minor government post,
He lost his job and lived off friends and patrons.
His whole life he was poor and failed to gain
A reputation for his poetry.

                                     “My whole life, a spirit of useless squawking . . .”

His poetry made people sad
And was often dismissed and went unread.

I spent most of this morning’s drizzle and cold
Reading eleven of his poems,
Then sadly flipped through the pages
To another century.