September, midnight

(after Li Bai)

Chinese soldiers in foxholes.jpg

Ten thousand September winds were blowing.
Ten thousand slivers of moon
peered through ten thousand windows of Chang-an,
where ten thousand women were pounding out silk
so every Chang-an household
could send warm clothes to the front.

Ten thousand September winds froze us at Yuguan Pass,
ten thousand slivers of moon
shone their feeble light
into ten thousand foxholes,
silvering the living and the dead like early frost, although
the living and the dead alike
were dressed warmly, anyway.

All that month I prayed I would meet my enemy soon,
so that one of us, at least,
could go home to see his wife again.




A prompt from (“Today I challenge you to write a poem in which you explore what you think is the cruelest month, and why”) jibed nicely and prompted me to finish my version of this poem from Li Po:


Chang-an + one + slice/sheet + month/moon
10,000 + household + pound + clothing + sound
autumn + wind + blow + never to be + exhausted
(total + yes) | always + (jade) | (off love) (turn off situation)
what + day + level | (ripening) + Hu + prisoner
(good + man) | beloved + stop + (far + levy) | expedition

If you prefer a translation… there are any number out there. Here is a representative one:

Chang-an — one slip of moon;
in ten thousand houses, the sound of fulling mallets.
Autumn winds keep on blowing,
all things make me think of Jade Pass!
When will they put down the barbarians
and my good man come home from his far campaign?

Image (because great poetry is anachronistic): Chinese soldiers in fox holes, (ca. 1942), from the U.S. Office of War Information, via U.S. Library of Congress ( This photograph, as a U.S. government work, is unprotected by copyright.


Life During Wartime

2081984776_7a81aa2338_oBig-head lost her boy
In the war, now she’s crying
If you can hear her.

Grey-hair lost his friends
In the war, now he’s crying,
It’s too late to get new ones.

And the townsfolk left their dirty dishes
And left their cups overturned on the tables
And left dinner burning on the stove
When they heard the news and fled
As who wouldn’t?

Now it’s murky dusk.
Now comes the snow.
Now comes the wind.
Fuck! But it’s cold out!

And the townsfolk fled
Except the old men,
And the old women, and the ghosts,
And me, burning this old book
Just to get some light.

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