Selections from By a Lake Near a Moon: Fishing with the Chinese Masters | DeWitt Clinton

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By a Lake Near a Moon: Fishing with the Chinese Masters
poems by DeWitt Clinton
cover design by Dale Houstman
watercolor by Joan Thomasson
is a rose press forthcoming 2018

By a Lake Near a Moon: Fishing with the Chinese Masters

These poems are improvisations/adaptations of the classical Chinese poets in Kenneth Rexroth’s translation/collection, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese (New Directions: New York, 1971): Tu Fu, Mei Yao Ch’en, Ou Yang Hsiu, Su Tung P’o, the Poetess Li Ch’ing Chao, Lu Yu, Chu Hsi, Hsu Chao, and the Poetess Chu Shu Chen.


Poetic Adaptations of The Poetess Li Ch’ing Chao


After Watching Rigoletto on a Sunday Afternoon by the Lake,
I Look to See That Li Ch’ing Chao Has Composed “Two Springs”

Summer sales are everywhere in town.
Our uncut neighbor’s lawn launches a billion dandelions.
The crabapple trees are starting to snow
On our dandelion free green lawn.
Above, puffy white clouds make
Shadows on some of those below.
From our basement Zac the Cat
Appears in a new spider web veil.
I’m quite hesitant to keep on dreaming
As the ones at night bring on a sweat
And the ones when I’m awake make
Those close by ask where did I just go?
Where we are the moon rises
When we’ve already latched the house.
We keep trying to return
To whom we were so long ago
When we sprang from bed like startled deer.
We still know what brings delight
Despite all our efforts otherwise.


Waiting in a Starbucks Near the Lake, I Read the Times
Then Find “Quail Sky” by Li Ch’ing Chao

It’s almost time for iced tea
Instead of the usual half decaf.
I’m usually the first to open blinds
To let the sun back in.
The green leaves of fading flowers are even
Drooping to the ground.
Some spring mornings I’m down
On the beach thrilled to watch
The sun rise out of our Lake.
With days like this I’m eternally
Grateful just to see what’s next.
I miss, though, all the friends
I’ve ever made who never
Think again of dropping by.
I’m in the back
Down on my knees pulling
Weeds so tomatoes
And broccoli and maybe even
Blue Egyptian iris can cheer us some
In this tiny spot
We still call home.


On a Warm June Saturday, I Wonder How to Hum “To the Tune,
‘Plum Blossoms Fall and Scatter,’” by Li Ch’ing Chao

After you’re gone, your White Linen mist
Floats in our tiny bedroom.
In the evening, west winds
Lift our curtains with big breezes.
I can’t recall when I last
Read something about what love might be.
Have you noticed the yellow finches?
Once, the moon filled our bedroom.
The rabbits have feasted
On all our baby broccoli plants.
The rains pour off our
Roof into our green secret forest.
Does a day ever go by
When I don’t wonder where you are?
Some days I’m on the other side
Of the world, and then, I wonder
What color amber you might
Wear someday, or not.
When I’m alive I’m always wondering what
The two of us might do sometime.


On a Cold, Rainy, Rainy Day in June, I Try to Find Solace
With “The Day of Cold Food,” by Li Ch’ing Chao

In six days, I will swim
In cold, cold waters of Lake Elkhart.
The outdoor grill needs cleaning
From all of last year’s
Feasts of fish and vegetables.
Tonight, we’ll dream with just one pillow
As we’ve stored all the rest.
The red-tailed hawk has not
Stalked our back forest all day
But we know what his taste
Is for garden-fed rabbit.
It is much too cold to scull
Down the river or swim
When rain pours all day.


After Completing an Olympic Triathlon Under Overcast Skies
I Rest in Dry Clothes and Read Li Ch’ing Chao’s “Mist”

Every morning we let the forest
In with light and birds into
Our tiny bedroom.
We keep our blinds
Closed all night in fear of
Who’s hiding right outside pretending
To come in with lonely knives.
Every day low flying jets
Make booms over the Lake.
We let the evening breezes cool
Our papered elephants and sleepy tigers.
We’ve replanted so many broccoli plants as
Briar Rabbit noshes on our young.
We’ll sit in sunset to catch
Every single moment.


Nearing the Longest Day of the Year, I Pull Weeds, Plant
A Flat of Flowers, Then Open Lu Yu’s “The Wild Flower Man”

No one really notices the old woman
Who sells bunches of bok choy
In the shade outside the indoor palace.
All morning long we never see
Who hoes and chops all day.
They’ve been here since the War
Brought them across from old Laos.
The marigolds and asters always
Sell before her leafy greens.
The two of us wonder where they
Go when they’re not behind what
We love to smell.
We’ve both been down on our
Knees (as well) pulling all the weeds we
Just don’t want to see in-
Between what we’ve planted that we hope
We’ll grill along with just caught fish.
Our good neighbor just
Can’t stand the woofs woofs anymore
So we’ll see squad cars
Pulling up late at night to check
Out what’s not right with our
Doggy neighbor who by now
Is smiling with a cold one.

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