exile’s letter: after Li Bai: for Gene

the candle flickers
the glass empties itself
the wind rustles the flag outside my window
and my thoughts are with you
old friend
you put aside my book to write
to tell me of your heart
memories, you say
of what and who we were, are
you ask when will I return
my company, you say
you sorely miss
I see you
old friend
in a picture on my shelf
your beard now grey
I think
and your hair thin
much like mine
not like in LA
the car ride up Topanga Canyon
at two in the morning
to see a woman we both loved
you huddled on the floor in back
while I drove one-handed
a bottle of scotch in the other
we were crazy then
but somehow survived
you long to hold me close
you say
and I, too, cling to air
we need to share a glass
old friend
let Steve watch us drink ourselves to God
and when the bottle empties
there will be another to uncork
and you and I and Steve
old friend
will retell stories
of pregnant ladies with axes
of Shakespeare in the park
of Leo’s potato salad
of the silence between cuts
and we will laugh
old friend
till the sun peeks through the curtains
and warms the world
once again

from Dreaming of Li Po, Two Poems by Tu Fu: Poem 2

Drifting clouds pass by all day long;
The wanderer is long in getting here.
Three nights now you’ve entered my dreams–
Which shows how good a friend you are.
But your leave-takings are hurried,
Bitterly you say, it’s not easy to come;
The river’s waters are wind-blown and choppy,
And you’re afraid to lose your oars.
Outside the door, you scratch your white head,
As if a lifetime’s ambition were forfeit.
Officials teem in the capital city,
Yet you alone are wretched.
Who says the net is wide,
When it tangles such a man in his old age?
An imperishable fame of a thousand years
Is but a paltry, after-life affair.

translated by Eugene Eoyang

from Dreaming of Li Po, Two Poems by Tu Fu: Poem 1

Parted by death, we swallow remorse;
Apart in life, we always suffer.
South of the river, miasmal place,
From the banished exile, not a word!
Old friend, you appeared in a dream,
It shows you have been long in my thoughts.
Perhaps it wasn’t your living soul:
The way’s too far, it couldn’t be done.
Your spirit came: and the maples were green:
Your spirit left: the mountain pass darkened.
Friend, now that you’re ensnared down there,
How did you manage to wing away?
Moonlight shines full on the rafters,
Yet I wonder if it isn’t your reflection.
The waters are deep, the waves expansive:
Don’t let the water-dragon get you!

translated by Eugene Eoyang