Poems in Dialogue with Kenneth Rexroth's 100 Poems from the Chinese by DeWitt Clinton
Updated: Jul 23
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.