The Song of the Earth

by Norman MacAfee


Drinking dancing
madly delighting
fifty years in flowers
sleeping in the womb.
China China, no need
to know my name!
Poor as ever, with
just enough for wine.
Ashamed to be called scholar.
They think I’ll never die.
I’ve never tainted my
nature with mindliness.
I am my own philosophy.



By West Lake, people are singing
and dancing. Why should they
care if the capital is north or south?
If we find a hero we can go back north.
There, the buildings are composed of music.

Under the lake lies the hero:
Iron weapons, armored horses falling.
He could swallow 10,000 miles.
But his reign was too short.
In these four decades I have
visited this place only once.



The Prince of Tsin
murdered his mother,
brother, uncle:
For a thousand miles
you can see the same make cars,
the same language.
South of the Yang-tse River
there can be no other king.
I shall command a million men
on West Lake. My horse shall
prance on zenith peak.



Escaped bandit
shaves head
but still steals.
Abbot: “Get out!
When you hear tsunami
you’ll be near.
When you get the message
you’ll be still.”
Resumes thievery.
Retires to X.
Tidal wave comes.
“In my life I’ve
never been religious,
only killed, escaped
jail, escaped
the world of
Now I see!”



White silk of Chi
newly ripped from me,
pure, uncut, an icy
pond, from which we
made a fan delight,
a shining moon, a
perfect (w)hole.
In out it flutters
from sleeves to
breast, bird’s sweet
breezes. Always I
dread fall’s fall,
warm’s dying in cold’s
hold. Then—you’ll
stuff it in some
box—the way your
love left midway.



Emperor Yao (2536 B.C.),
visits a village incognito, asks,
“What do you think of
Emperor Yao?”
“What’s an emperor?
What’s a Yao?”
How great
was Yao, say
Buddhists, Taoists,
Confucianists, Maoists,
he let the people
forget him.



When young I marched to a different drum,
loving only the hills and mountains,
but naive fell in with the dust of
the world, which enslaved me for decades.

Birds migrating long for woods of memory,
fish in the bowl yearn for their river.
Reclaiming the south marsh, nature-drunk
I have returned to the fields and gardens!

I have ten acres
and a nine-room cottage.
Elms and willows crowd the eaves,
peach and plum trees festoon the entry.

Hazy the distant villages.
Steady the smoke from the cottages.
Somewhere in overgrown paths, a dog barks.
Atop a mulberry tree, a cock crows.

At gate, at courtyard, all hush of dust.
In empty rooms, sleep and torpor.
Too long I lived in cages.
Now—earth and freedom!



Li Po’s concubine
was so prized because
she wouldn’t let him
pass out till he’d
finished his
latest verses
and the Milky Way
came down to earth.
Last seen: feet.



Tu Fu
weaves across
a field
among the
thousands of
war dead.