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Poems in Dialogue with Kenneth Rexroth's 100 Poems from the Chinese by DeWitt Clinton

The "numbers" at the head of each poem refer to the numbering system in Kenneth Rexroth's 100 Poems from the Chinese. If interested, please refer to the Rexroth edition (New Directions, 1971).


After Crossing the Milwaukee River in Late March,

I Read Ou Yang Hsiu’s “In the Evening I Walk by the River”

The River flows fast with no ice floes.

Too soon for canoes, and the fish too deadly for our dishes.

The bridge gets us to work, then home, too.

All the river boats wait quietly in dry dock.


Wondering About a Friday Night Fish Dinner,

I Look for Advice with Ou Yang Hsiu’s “Fisherman”

The ice fish houses have all disappeared on the lagoon.

Now the men stand with long poles on the bridge

Hoping for anything tasty by evening.

What I’ve wanted to say is almost impossible something you wouldn’t believe

But I’m still here, high above the River, waiting for cod.


After a Cold Bracing March Run Along the Lake, I Find Some Warmth

With Ou Yang Hsiu’s “Spring Walk to the Pavilion of Good Crops and Peace”

El Nina has kept the trees bare

And the grass is old winter grass.

Most of us are tired of all this.

All over the village

Bags of branches and leaves

Cover the front curbs.

Near the eastern walls green

Begins to push through.

We’ve been played by talk

Of spring for so long

Some could now care less.


On a Blustery March Afternoon I Sit

Down With Ou Yang Hsiu’s “East Wind”

The trees are still black as death.

The chickadees and grackles riot at the Lake.

Too windy for boats today.

Thank crows the crows haven’t returned.

We watch ballet all afternoon.

By evening tomorrow we’ll look

For Elijah to sit at Seder.


Watching the Moon Set in the West at Sunrise, I Welcome the End

Of March with Ou Yang Hsiu’s “When the Moon Is in the River of Heaven”

The littlest house on our street

Is the one where we find shelter from the Winds.

By now most of my wife’s

Perfumes are only last mists.

If she were gone I’d spray

What’s left and let the mists drift

Into old memories of love.

We still can swell some

In our old delightful garden we’ve

Made beneath the covers of night.

Each day we say we miss each

Other just before one of us must pee.

We can still do something suddenly

Come Winter or come Spring.


After Being Passed by Young Women Running at the Lakefront,

I Savor Ou Yang Hsiu’s “Song of Liang Chou”

Perfume sprays float by as I pass

The Boston Store cosmetic counters.

In yellows and pinks, young girls

Perch for free make-ups and lipsticks,

Fingers texting or whispering to BFF.

They pass from shop to shop like apple

Blossoms floating back to earth.

Sometimes they stop for skinny lattes.

Their orange and blue and purple streaks

In their new hairdos might attract young

Shaved head boys. They seldom need

To check their faces in their mirrors.

Confident they own the world

And are so special, they cannot see

How sag and bags will spoil their charm.

When they stop at corner puddles

Few see who they’ll be as

They step into their watery selves.

After strolling to the mall bookstore

I see all the faces of the street

Smiling back in paparazzi shots

Of young lithe smiling stars

Forever young and pouty and much

Like all the girls so wish to be

In faces of long lashes and pink gloss.

Some men we all don’t want

To know will think and plan of what

They’ll do just for the flattery

Of a young girl’s eyelash flutter.

Let’s admit we’d all love

To find the skin of some such nymphs.

Next year, if there is a next, spring

Winds might start me thinking of old youth.


Recent poems by DeWitt Clinton have appeared in Lowestoft Chronicle, The New Reader Review, The Bezine, The Poet by Day, Verse-Virtual, Poetry Hall, Muddy River Poetry Review, Across the Margin, and Art + Literature Lab. He has two poetry collections from New Rivers Press, a recent collection of poems, At the End of the War, (Kelsay Books, 2018), and another is in production from Is A Rose Press, a collection of poetic adaptations of Kenneth Rexroth’s 100 Poems from the Chinese.

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