That little phrase above there, “changjiang shangyou hen feiwo,” is one of my favorite sentences in the world. It translates as “the upper reaches of the Yangtze River valley are very rich and fertile” which is all well and good, but what I love about it is the way it sounds when you say it. The upward swoop of the chang, the sustained note of the jiang, the downward bark of the shang and the swing of the you, the deep growl of the you, and the swift up and down finish of the feiwo. Mandarin is a language I speak to myself inside my own head. It’s part of the language of words themselves, the sound and feel of them, phrases and fragments and little mantras that in my life others have used to soothe, like All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. All the good words that save us, that have saved us.
Tonight I Am in Love
Tonight, I am in love with poetry,
with the good words that saved me,
with the men and women who
uncapped their pens and laid the ink
on the blank canvas of the page.
I am shameless in my love; their faces
rising on the smoke and dust at the end
of day, their sullen eyes and crusty hearts,
the murky serum now turned to chalk
along the gone cords of their spines.
I’m reciting the first anonymous lines
that broke night’s thin shell: sonne under wode.
A baby is born us bliss to bring. I have labored
sore and suffered death. Jesus’ wounds so wide.
I am wounded with tenderness for all who labored
in dim rooms with their handful of words,
battering their full hearts against the moon.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek.
Wake, now my love, awake: for it is time.
For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love!
What can I do but love them? Sore throated
they call from beneath blankets of grass,
through the windtorn elms, near the river’s
edge, voices shorn of everything but the one
hope, the last question, the first loss, calling
Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears.
When as in silks my Julia goes, calling Why do I
languish thus, drooping and dull as if I were all earth?
Now they are bones, the sweet ones who once
considered a cat, a nightingale, a hare, a lamb,
a fly, who saw a Tyger burning, who passed
five summers and five long winters, passed them
and saved them and gave them away in poems.
They could not have known how I would love them,
worlds fallen from their mortal fingers.
When I cannot see to read or walk alone
along the slough, I will hear you, I will
bring the longing in your voices to rest
against my old, tired heart and call you back.