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from TWELVE DYNASTIES.

<TN>Wong, Elaine</TN>

Translated by Elaine Wong
 I. [phrase omitted]
I. ZHOU DYNASTY
Your circumference is all encompassing
even to this day. Your center is the gentle,
innocent eye of a typhoon, marking Western Zhou,
Eastern Zhou, the Spring and Autumn Period, and
the Warring States Period as your radii. Along them,
the Hundred Schools of Thought erupt into a stormy
intellectual circle across space-time. Confucius says
in English means, isn't it a joy to have a friend
visiting from afar to see the ineffable Liberty Avenue?
Isn't it a delight to learn to flow in nature's course,
to practice with a mind flowing in joy and ease, and,
ultimately, to flow into infinity? Qualified candidates
who arrive (to study), bearing gifts (of ten strips of jerky),
won t be refused by our dynasty--whether the subject is
political science or nutrition. Governing a great state
is like cooking a small fish; the same recipe serves both:
mix the pickled tofu of the expatriate pedants who
showed up just now, the bamboo shoots of Xunzi,
the squid ink of Mohism, and the smooth tongue of
the School of Names, then cook by turning the spatula
in the alternate vertical and horizontal moves of the School
of Diplomacy--the great taste will make you perfectly
round. From dawn to dusk, your people work on the field
in the upper half of your circumference. Through the mouth
in your lower half, they sing to their heart's content:
Songs of the States of Zheng, Wei, Bin, Zhou Nan ...
the best numbers from the Book of Songs
. Is Tao
abstract or concrete? Is the sky round or flat? They ask
these questions in cycles; you round out your answers
with circles of thought that the world ceaselessly renews.
II. [phrase omitted]
II. WEI, JIN, AND NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN DYNASTIES
Having philosophical conversations. Lounging about.
Spending time on handheld devices and the net. Remembering
only your face in the books of faces, eclectically related,
stacked in disarray. Observing the sky in a headstand,
the physical in place of the metaphysical. A candlelit night,
oil dripping on comrades, political or same-sex. A bright moon
baring the heart, the heart bearing itself with modesty, waiting for
lonesomeness to dilute in isolated stars. Roaming the mountains,
cruising the waters, messing about, off the path of fortunes.
Gambling for gambling's sake. Tromping on morals in honor of
troubled times. AV porn starlet. Vidya sandwiched in Tri-vidya(ism):
no remedy. Why not enjoy tonight instead of tomorrow,
fake silliness at the expense of true understanding, self-indulge
in secret rather than yearning to be a pop star? Finding
the best listener, headsets unnecessary. Playing music with
no lute or zither. Bipartisan politicking. What the heck is that.
III. [phrase omitted]
III. TANG DYNASTY
We walk in Chinatown of the Tang Chinese. Korean and Japanese soap
operas patch up our knowledge of the Great Tang's lost culture and
ritual music. The eNews said a first female president was elected.
I suddenly think of our one-of-a-kind empress, Madam Wu. In a
Japanese magazine, the hiragana script trembles in the breezes like
grass by the shore, taking us upstream of time to the divine grass
calligrapher's cursive writing, Upset Stomach
, which makes
characters melt like the diarrhea. Absent from sight, Chang'an,
City of Everlasting Peace, only perpetuates distress. Students from
abroad, monk-scholars, missionaries, merchants, ambassadors. The
High Tang is like a plump silkworm that slowly builds its cocoon,
emitting silk, porcelain, ironware, silver and gold articles,
bronze mirrors, papermaking, and woodblock printing to the West via
the Silk Road. It inhales grapes, walnuts, carrots, peppercorns,
broad beans, exotic music, fashion, as well as the Abbasid
Caliphate's ethics, grammar, astrology, algebra, navigation ...
Despite their leader's words, "Seek knowledge even if it takes
you
to China." In the chessboard-like capital, we erect multifaith
temples, churches, monuments, and use them as chess pieces in a
multinational tournament. Under a bright moon in Chang'an, wealthy
people count their riches out loud. Lady Gongsun perfects the sword
dance in palaces and plazas with exquisite martial-arts finesse.
Whirling dancers bang drums, spin like snowflakes twirling all
around. Open variety contests: acrobatics, juggling,
fire-breathing, sword-swallowing, somersaults, feather-ball-kicking
... Tales of strange events blur fiction and reality: a night with
two beauties, the Southern Commander's dream, a world inside a
pillow, a romance of the western chamber, the ghost of Lady Huo
Xiaoyu ... We walk at the intersection of East and West Chang'an
Road in Taipei on the island. To the north is the metro line for
Taipei Arena Museum of Contemporary Art Fine Art Museum Jiuquan
Street Dunhuang Street the incineration plant Tamsui River. To the
south are the boulevards Civic and Ketagalan, which lead to the
train station Legislative Yuan Bank of Taiwan the Presidential
Office the Professional Go Association National Museum of History.
Chang'an looked like a chessboard, they said. In the chill of
spring, we bathe in a sulfur spa in Beitou. Clubbing pretties urge
us to drink: Gentlemen, don't let it stop
  ...
IV. [phrase omitted]
IV. SONG DNYNASTY
Thanks to your Slender Gold calligraphy, we gladly cut back
material wants in front of the words of a golden past when
depreciation makes our wallets skinny
Thanks to your "Former and Latter Odes to the Red Cliff," we
can
behold the cliff's front and back even when it was destroyed by a
rockslide after its glory days.
Thanks to your painting Spring Festival along the River
, we
can watch a bubbly soap opera starring ordinary people like us
without a projector or the television.
Thanks to your Yue Fei and Qin Hui, we know at a young age who's
good and bad, are able to tell the patriot from the traitor, and
worship gang leaders who have words tattooed on their hands and
backs.
Thanks to your Travelers among Mountains and Streams
 and
Windblown Pines in Myriad Valleys
, we know the world is big, the
package tours offered by travel agencies are many and costly, and a
painting replica can take us
    just as far.
Thanks to your sunsets crisscrossed with faint fragrances and scant
shadows, we are  in the mood of the poet's flute accompanying
Xiaohong's singing, gorgeous, Nakasi.
Thanks to your millennium-long foot binding, our sensual bank acquired
    three-and four-inch gold and silver lotuses,
with deposits of interest-free, debtor-to-debtor, fixed and floating
deformations
    as perverse arousals.
Thanks to the reduplicated seeking, bleakness, suffering,
wretchedness
, and
    torment
 in your poem
"A Slow La(-di-da-)ment," we realize that what refines refines
through the
    grid-breaking poet/ess.
V. [phrase omitted]
V. YUAN DYNASTY
They pig out on meat,
chug milk, swig spirits.
Thick snow starts to melt on the steppe. Horses
head west, south, and east at full gallop, jumping
over the continental border and the Great Wall.
They cast enormous drops of their khans' sweat
across the world map. For the first time, the map
of China was glued together by the bodily fluids
secreted in the sweat bath of Eternal Flame:
Genghis Khan, Ogedei Khan, Kublai Khan ...
That's right, like the stink of a foul-mouthed rogue
that intrudes on the graceful bed chamber of your
literature, vulgarizing and harassing it. A vibrant
mixed-arts zaju
 of life crossbreeds in the theatre:
the mating of sweat odor and sweet scent.
VI. [phrase omitted]
VI. NEW TANG DYNASTY
The rice of Tang sweetened all its tangs-The
Twenty-Four Histories
 didn't say this but lovers steeped
in their syrupy romance twenty-four hours a day would agree:
our staple is the sweetened tang. We are in the New Tang,
to which confectionery ambassadors pay daily tributes.
Using the sweetened tang's language, we write our snippety
everyday histories (inevitably sprinkled with grains of salty
hankerings, lingerings, and misgivings). We chew over them
in morsels of five-and seven-syllable regulated verse.
I say, your voice coats me like honey.
You say, un-candy-wrap me.
I say, devouring you, my teeth age.
You say, love the sweetened tang always.
To love the sweetened tang means feasting on it
without leaving a trace, not to say its best because
the candy tin of desire must be unfillable anytime
to make room for the ever-upgrading New Tang of love-its
in-tang-ible content realizes its richness.


We start the day with candy in the New Tang as we miss the Sweetened Tang in its 300 classic poems.

NOTES

These poems are from the sequence "Twelve Dynasties." The timeline of the six dynasties discussed in this excerpt is as follows: Zhou (Western Zhou, 1046-771 BCE; Eastern Zhou, 770-256 BCE); Wei, Jin, and Northern and Southern (220-589 CE); Tang (618-907 CE); Song (Northern Song, 960-1127 CE; Southern Song, 1127-1279 CE); Yuan (1271-1368 CE); and New Tang, which is fictional. The other six dynasties included in this poem sequence are Xia, Shang, Qin, Han, Ming, and Qing. The Chinese character for "dynasty," [phrase omitted] (chao), means "morning" or "day" when pronounced as zhao.

"Zhou Dynasty": Two of the meanings of [phrase omitted] (zhou) are "circumference" and "all over." "Governing a great state / is like cooking a small fish" comes from Dao De Jing. In print, the upper part of the character for zhou [phrase omitted] resembles that for "field" ([phrase omitted] tian). The character for "mouth" ([phrase omitted] kou) is in the lower half.

"Tang Dynasty": "The divine grass calligrapher" refers to Zhang Xu ([phrase omitted] c. 675-750 CE). Lady Gongsun ([phrase omitted] d. 394 CE) was the top dance artist at the peak of the Tang dynasty. It is said that her dance inspired Zhang Xu's perfection of his grass script. References are made to individual Tang poems throughout the text: "Absent from sight ...perpetuates distress" alludes to Li Bai's "Ascending the Phoenix Terrace in Jinling"; "Under a bright moon ... out loud" parodies a line in Li Bai's "Midnight Songs: Autumn"; "Chang an looked like a chessboard, they said" refers to Du Fu's "Autumn Meditations (4)"; "In the chill ... Beitou" mimics Bai Juyi's "Song of Everlasting Sorrow"; and "Gentlemen, don't let it stop" invokes Li Bai's "Bring in the Wine." Beitou is an area of hot springs in northern Taiwan.

"Song Dynasty": The Slender Gold calligraphy style was created by Huizong [phrase omitted] 1082-1135 CE), the eighth Song emperor. "Former and Latter Odes to the Red Cliff' were written by Su Shi [phrase omitted] 1037-1101 CE). Spring Festival along the River was a large-scale painting by Northern Song artist Zhang Zeduan [phrase omitted] 1085-1145 CE). Yue Fei 1103-1142 CE), a military general in Southern Song, was heroized posthumously for his patriotism. Qin Hui [phrase omitted] 1090-1155 CE) was a domineering chancellor who ordered the execution of Yue Fei and was regarded as a traitor. Travelers among Mountains and Streams was painted by Fan Kuan 950-1032 CE), Windblown Pines in Myriad Valleys by Li Tang [phrase omitted] 1050-1130 CE). Xiaohong was a female singer mentioned in the poem "Crossing Chuihong Bridge" by the Southern Song poet Jiang Kui [phrase omitted] 1155-1221 CE). Nakasi was a popular live band service including performance and accompaniment in bars and restaurants in Japan and Taiwan before the karaoke. "Three-inch golden lotuses" is an idiomatic expression for bound feet. Four-inch bound feet were called "silver lotuses." The poem "A Slow Lament" by Li Qingzhao [phrase omitted] 1084-1155 CE), arguably the most accomplished female poet in Chinese history, reduplicates seven written characters in its opening lines.

"Yuan Dynasty": In Mongolian, Mongolia means "eternal flames" [phrase omitted] --Chen Li). The word Khan appears as a phonetic borrowing in Chinese, using the character [phrase omitted] (han), which means "sweat." Zaju [phrase omitted] is a form of variety show popularized in Yuan Dynasty.

"New Tang Dynasty": The character for "Tang," [phrase omitted] (tang), combines with that for "rice" [phrase omitted] mi) to form [phrase omitted] (tang), meaning "sugar or sweets." The pinnacle of Tang Dynasty is known as [phrase omitted] (sheng tang), which sounds the same as [phrase omitted] (sheng tang, "remaining sugar/sweets"). The "300 classic poems" refer to the Three Hundred Tang Poems. The Chinese version of this poem has been slightly revised subsequent to its first publication.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article.]
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Article Details
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Author:Chen Li (Taiwanese poet)
Publication:Chicago Review
Article Type:Poem
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 22, 2017
Words:2298
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