Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nephrite Jade

Mountain Travelers, nephrite,
Qing Dynasty at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
inspired this poem. (Photo from IMA)
after Yeats

The sky is white because it burns.
The sea rises, and business carries on.
Who would keep making this dust
that clings to us and is so easily tracked?

All things fall, including clouds
that descend with chaos and flood.
Who would rebuild a broken chimney
or the slightest wonder when the need's
a boatwright or a steady hammer
joining a vast and desolate wall?

I've looked around and failed
to find the depth of lapis lazuli,
but here's cheap nephrite jade
bleached in centuries of oxygen,
a tiny cliff upon which
stout, carved shrubs survive
the sun's constant radiation.
Balanced on a chiseled path
three mounted figures pass
across an unforgiving incline.
I imagine across the mountain
they'll trade what's in their packs.

In the heat of that slope
one rider fingers and fingers an abacus.
In the center one nods
so dangerously with sleep.
Last of all a driver watches
the atmosphere and his friends.

He lightly taps his donkey's shoulders
with bamboo cut from the valley.
He rests knowing his work
does what needs to be done,
and will be done as long
as there's light.
Let it be a hard day
with harder days to come;
he sits tall in the task,
and his eyes, his wakeful,
glistening eyes discern
it all and smile.

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