Translating Wang Wei


After Living in the Hills

In rows along the smooth shelf-boards
of this old cabinet, the words

are empty now. Once filled with rice
milk, scented fruit-rich teas, and iced

mint waters, now the bowls and cups
stand hollowly along the tops

of time-bowed wood. We lightly tap
the scarlet dish of lotus, map

its sloping sides, its carved-out bends
and empty indentation … then

we move our hands to wicker gate
and touch it gently: shallow plate

in earthen hues. The yellow vase
of lantern fires lives near the base

of this dark cupboard. Lean and tall,
it wears a dusty face like all

the vessels here. Mere centuries
ago, that bowl held fragrant sprays

of brilliant flowers, and that urn held
steaming tea. Today, we turn

these plates and teacups in our hands,
then put them back, arranged again

in barren lines. These hollow pots
of simple nouns inform us not

of chestnuts, brushwood doors, or cranes,
but rather of their absence. Plain,

dry, motionless, the nest glass holds
no drink. The pine tree plate is cold.

In this dark cabinet of poem:
no lanterns rise, few men reach home.

Elizabeth Klise Von Zerneck lives in Illinois. Her poems have recently appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Potomac Review, Rock & Sling, and Runes: A Review of Poetry.

First published in Measure, Volume 2 (2007)