relationships · Work

Poem Without a Title 2

no-2

Sometimes cities are guarded by monsters that are not necessarily monsters.

I once traveled to a city (it could have been a dream) where the inhabitants whispered tales of a Golem. The place was called Prague, or Pi Laji which sounded like the words for Horse Manure. When my friends laughed at my fantastic tale, I gently reproached them and blamed myself for slighting the memory of that great, dignified city.

While there, I met a strange bony-faced man with hair black as ink, and a face that seemed to eat itself, so thin. He was called Franz Kafka.
“I hate the bureaucrats,” Franz said in a soft voice.
Then he spoke of castles on hills and invisible officials that one could never meet, in spite of endless petitions.
“You are so beautiful,” I said to him.
Franz shrugged, looked at some of my poems, thought long and hard, and then said, “No, your poems are of love, and that is true beauty.”

Yes, I thought, I am this man, but I am also, unlike Franz Kafka, one who loves. Behold! I realized I am the Chinese Kafka. My poems, like his books, attack bureaucracy and one’s impotence in the face of an unfeeling government. Unlike Kafka’s work, they possess a unique, Chinese subtlety. Behind his shadowy worlds, one discovers beauty and love, and room for hope. Whereas the rays of sunshine are extinguished in Kafka’s steely prose, in my poetry light glimmers from afar. Then again, perhaps we are bad readers and poorly understand the German master. As Kafka would be the first to declare, all books are just poor translations.

昨夜星辰昨夜风,  zuó yè xīng chén zuó yè fēng
画楼西畔桂堂东。  huà lóu xī pàn guì táng dōng
身无彩凤双飞翼,  shēn wú cǎi fèng shuāng fēi yì
心有灵犀一点通。  xīn yǒu líng xī yī diǎn tōng
隔座送钩春酒暖,  gé zuò sòng gōu chūn jiǔ nuǎn
分曹射覆蜡灯红。  fēn cáo shè fù là dēng hóng
嗟余听鼓应官去,  jiē yú tīng gǔ yìng guān qù
走马兰台类转蓬。  zǒu mǎ lán tái lèi zhuǎn péng

Yesterday evening, the night was wind, yesterday evening, I saw stars and constellations,
Westward lay the Painted Pavilion, Eastward the sweet scented Cassia Hall.
Our bodies seemed immaterial, just two brilliant, fluttering pairs of phoenix wings.
Our hearts were linked by a minute thread, from root to tip of the magic horn.
Seated, we played hook and drank warm spring wine,
While we guessed at riddles, scarlet beams shimmered in the candlelight.
Cha Cha! Alas for the drums  of the morning reveille.
I now ride between offices, a blossom scattered to the wind.

Let me tell you of an ancient game. The details of the ancient game of Hide the Hook are as follows 1 After a banquet or dinner, attendees are divided into two groups. A jade hook is passed between. If someone captures the piece then others have to guess who has it. The group that captures the hook makes a fist with their hands in triumph, forcing the other side to guess. By observing the passing of hands and the expressions on faces, one group can discover who holds the hook. In this poem the object of man’s affection passes the hook directly to him. Even though in the company of others, she is brave enough to let one know her true intentions.

I wrote this poem around the second year of Hui Chang 2, while working in the Tang Dynasty capital, Chang’An. Many scholars see this poem as alluding to frustration with my work. Indeed, in my work it was common for government officials to spend their time drinking and carousing rather than working. Ignored and unable to fit in, I was like a blossom scattered to the wind. The poem, however, is also a discourse on friendship and flirtation.

***

About the Calligraphy:
昨夜星辰昨夜风,画楼西畔桂堂东。Yesterday evening, the night was wind, yesterday evening,I saw stars and constellations, Westward lay the Painted Pavilion, Eastward the sweet scented Cassia Hall.  (2 rows, 14 characters, Traditional Kai Script): M.O. Ndesandjo

Notes:
1.   会昌二年(842AD)

2. Thanks to Professor Liao Ming Chun for his explanation. It is similar to a more modern game called Beat the drum pass the flower.

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