When I Came To Judevine Mountain
When I came to Judevine Mountain
I thought
all my troubles would cease,
but I brought
my books and papers — my ambition —
so now, still,
all I know is grief.
Old Red Beard, My Friend
Old Red Beard, My Friend, who lives in exile and whom I never see, how I wish
you could come to my house this summer and sit on the porch with me.

We could drink tea, eat candied ginger, and, late in the afternoon, watch
the swallows swooping low over the vegetable garden catching insects

as the dusk comes on. Then, after the swallows have gone to bed, and we have
switched from tea to wine, and after we have had our supper, the dragonflies

will come out and do their swooping also, only higher up in the air, so that we
will lift our wine cups toward the heavens and toast them again and again,

cheer them on with cup after cup of wine — Go to it, Bug Patrol! — while we sit
getting drunker and drunker and the evening settles down around us and

the mountains to the east turn purple. And when it is dark and we have
lighted the lamps on the porch, we will remember, in the stillness of the night,

our ancient Chinese brothers who, thousands of years ago, also grew old and
drank wine and got drunk and made also such melancholy poems about the

fleeting sweetness of this life.

In An Age Of Academic Mandarins
I am exiled in an age of academic Mandarins
who manufacture secret vocabularies so they
can keep their verses to themselves and away
from ordinary people — people who could never
understand the erudition of their academic allusions
or the quirky twists of their self-indulgent minds.

Ah, Po Chu-yi, how they would laugh at you, My Friend,
standing there in your kitchen testing your poem on your
illiterate cook to see if it is plain enough so that he and other
ordinary people will be able to understand, and when he says
he doesn’t know what you are talking about, you go back
to your study and make it simpler, plainer, more easily accessible.

As in your time, Po Chu-yi, so in mine, My Friend,
poetry has been stolen from the people again.
It keeps happening!
Oh, how they would laugh at you, as they laugh at me,
trying to make poems so pure, so clean, so simple
anyone can understand.
Old Poet Refuses To Leave Home

My Friend, Red Beard, is getting famous now; now, that is, that he is over seventy. He got invited to Bellagio, to Italy, a villa, servants, the Rockefellers, rich food, stuffy people, this place where you must dress for dinner every night and promenade around with a glass of sherry in your hand and talk to important personages: prestige and contacts, power, influence, who knows what else!

Red Beard actually planned to go. It would be nice: a vacation, people to wait on you, hand and foot, day and night, your every need, a break from the daily drudgery, the routine. Then he realized he’d have to spend his days with all those, as he put it, “shirty internationals,” which is to say sometimes even a master can be distracted momentarily by the distractions of the world, but, because he is a master, he regained his equilibrium, knowing that daily drudgery is the mantra of his life, the wellspring of his poems.

And so it was that Red Beard left his so-called friends baffled, open-mouthed, and consternated, and stayed home, stayed in his little dump on his little hillside in upstate New York, where he could sweep up wallboard dust from the recent remodeling and shovel snow and plan the summer garden and sit at the table in the kitchen all day long and smoke and watch the birds out the window as they come and go to and from the feeder and listen to the voices from within and be alone and once in a while write down a line that maybe sometime, maybe someday, might be a part of some new poem.