Diptych:
The Road to Shu is Hard / The Road, Again

Chinese by Li Bai / Translation & response by Lucas Klein

I: The Road to Shu is Hard (Li Bai)
Aaaarraagh!
                           Dangerous and High.
The road to Shu is harder than
                           climbing the sky.
Cancong and Yufu forged this boundless country.
                 Forty-eight thousand
                           years later, finally,
 relations with the Qin have begun,
                   the passing of settlersí smoke.
                                   Taibai to the west:
                                                       only birds
                                                       can pass it, reaching out
                                         as far as Emei peak.
The ground
                 collapses. The mountain
                                                   crumbles.
Warriors (strong) die.
               Sky-steps hook together
               on the cliff-face walkway.
     Above, six dragons drag the Sun chariot back
                                     to avoid the high peak.
Below, rushing waves whirlpool, churning back
                       to Sichuan.
 Yellow cranes canít fly over it. Monkeys and gibbons yearn
                               to cross it, but they hang,
                               mournful.
Tortuous.
                         The heights of Qingni.
Tortuous.
                                         Nine bends. One hundred steps.
                                 Coiling through the rocks
                                                       and juts.
                 Touch Orion. Pass Gemini.
Look up, panting, heaving.
Hand on the chest.
Sit with a long sigh.
                               Tell me, Westward Voyager:
                                         When will you come back?
These crags on this trip are insurmountable.
                     Tragic birds moan on ancient trees.
             Circling in the forest cocks fly,
                         chased by hens. The cuckoos
                                         yelp at the moonlight.
                       Sad, desolate mountain.
The road to Shu is harder than climbing
                                     the sky. Hear this
                   and your face bleaches out.
                             These linked peaks are a foot from the sky.
Decrepit pines hang upside-down
                                 from the cliff face.
         Flying and bursting, waterfalls cascade
                                             with whooshes and whirs.
Thundering gullies spin stones and
                                                 bang walls.
How dangerous this is.
                                               You:
                                               Long-road Traveler:
                     Why in hell are you coming this way?
Lofty and steep, Sword Hall on the rocky peaks.
   With one man blocking
                         the pass, ten thousand troops canít
                                                             crack it.
             And if the guards are not kinsmen,
                       they turn into
                               jackals
                         and wolves.
Avoid the wild tigers in the morning.
Avoid the long snakes in the night.
                           Theyíll sharpen their teeth.
                           Theyíll suck your blood.
                           Theyíll kill you like flax.
Happy talk of the Brocaded City
             is no match
                   for an early trip
           home.
The road to Shu
                     is hard.
                     Harder than climbing
                                           the sky.
Sidle back.                                                  Look west.
                             All my sighs
                                     are long.

 

II: The Road, Again
Iím tired of sittin here baby
         this place aint no home
Tired of walkin this highway
         but I aint got no home
Till I find one Mama Iím
         walkin out on my own
This road itís bent and twisty
         my feet are feelin sore
This road is bent and twisted and
         my feet already sore
Honey why doncha tell your daddy what
         it is Iím walkin for
Iím walkin up a mountain
         walkin up a hill
Iím walkin up a mountain
         Iím comin down the hill
Iíll be kickin up dust on the road here
         until I walk my fill
I packed up a suitcase
         kickin it down the road
I packed me up a suitcase
         left it by the side of the road
Aint got no direction but I
         got to go
One foot in fronta the other
         heel stickin in the mud
One foot trailin the other
         dont stick in the mud
I keep on movin and a
         followin my blood
Birds is on the wire
         them dogs are all chained down
Crows flyin off the wire while
         the dogs a been chained down
Iím hungry on the pavement baby
         walkin outa your town
The blues aint nothin but
         walkin out on your own
The blues aint nothing except
         bein all alone
I been walkin forever honey
         thats what keep me goin
I hit the train tracks baby
         I seen the crossroads too
I slept by the traintracks and
         I stopped at the crossroads too
Iím ridin the blinds and walkin
         till I get me back to you
Yeah I can see my feet are walkin but
         I cant feel my legs none
My feet they start to walkin when
         my legs dont wanna move none
I dont know when Iíll be finished,
         dont know when I begun
                       when I be done