Drifting down the Yangtze River
Last night as we passed the lights
of houseboats docked along the bank,
the way dark as a carp's gullet
and humming with cold harmonies,
I looked hard for Li Bai and his lantern
floating mid-river, waiting for the moon
to emerge from the clouds, waiting
for me to climb aboard with a bottle
of jiu so we could tell each other
poems in our disparate tongues, laughs
bouncing off the rumpled hillsides
and waking up the authorities,
those tiresome scolds who have forgotten
the night songs their parents once sang.
Shades of Shangri-La
Sun-bronzed pilgrims, babies strapped
to backs, circle the Jokhang Temple
in murmuring prayer, counterclockwise.
Han soldiers stroll by, no longer curious,
pale and officially unphotographable,
rifles reflecting a stark blue sky.
Somewhere far beyond the fabled peaks,
between daily prayers, an anointed one,
recalling his lost youth, tells stories
to an auditorium of sympathizers,
keen to lean into his measured meanings,
quick to share their sorrowed hopes,
while quiet men in closed rooms
sift email for fragrances of stubborn dust.
Two Views at the Wall
Stone and brick, blood and chi:
Chang Cheng snakes along
the green peaks on its slow
journey across another century,
shedding its film of memory
as tourists try to digitize what
eluded a string of emperors
and their Mongol predators,
shimmering in the morning sun,
audacious and untranslatable.
Below one tower, a young bride
and her swirling silken train
pose for a slew of photographs,
the groom an alabaster accessory.
Four Gentlemen: A Meditation
Against a field of snow, plum blossoms
strike to the heart of hope: red petals
warm the hour, warm the waning day.
Make your way down the mountain
as fragile orchids float toward
the lake, a wild white fragrance.
Here you can find stout stands
of bamboo, green against green,
absorbing the sun's ample fierceness.
First frost beheads pretenders.
These chrysanthemums tell another story,
the cold persistence of desire.
Let the voices of these scrolls
turn time into branches of being.
In Terracotta Dreamland
The story goes that seven farmers dug
for well water and struck gold,
pieces of the fabled first empire.
Today the site, covered and partly
excavated, holds eight thousand men
and battle horses, petrified in clay.
Each is dignified, uniquely distinctive.
Faces like those of the ghostly men
who fashioned them, who set ranks
in motion and died violently here,
the secret of Emperor Qin's immortal
entourage buried alongside him.
In the crowded gift shop, an old farmer
signs souvenir books, fends off photographs.
Chip Dameron has published five collections of poetry, as well as numerous individual poems in literary magazines, most recently in San Pedro River Review and Bohemia in the U.S. and Boyne Berries in Ireland. He lives in Texas but has traveled extensively in Europe and China.