—after Su Dongpo’s “Reading Meng Jiao”
Reading awful poems late at night,
each word scratchy as a hog’s bristles,
my eyes ache and blur in the dimming light.
I don’t find one good line, one image,
one single flower piercing the mud—
only ponderous “ideas,” heavy
as boulders clogging a clear stream.
Or worse, it’s like eating bony little fish—
or boiled crabs, and breaking out in hives!
Nothing I hear or see tonight
is comfort or anodyne, nothing
to lose myself in for part of an hour …
Our lives passed like a morning mist,
or a flame whose candle’s burned away.
Why strain listening for beautiful music
in the witless peeps of an insect,
when I can just put the book aside
and study your last woodcut—blue night,
rain pelting the riddling moonlight
on a blue-black bay—more wondrous
than words on a page. Better for me.