Glosa on Meng Chiao’s “Complaint of a Neglected Wife”

My reproach is like mottled bamboo:
Anguished roots twist beneath.
Before the shoot was out of the ground
Already it bore the scars of secret tears.

Did you think I wouldn’t speak?
that I could hold a silence, be nothing,
because you want me to? Polluted
dry miles between kisses, always thirsting
to be heard, to see you turning, lit by sun,
and breathe my scented hair like blossoms.
I am turning hard, tall, willowy, silent
like you always wished: delicate, calm.
Now, in return, I can ignore you.
My reproach is like mottled bamboo:

breath caught, knowing, choking;
my words are only weeds in your
garden. Standing here I breathe the
night, thick with blossoms, blooming.
Drowned with wild perfume, rapturous
wedding to soil, as I was quietly to you.
My strands will dry in the sun,
my thoughts drift amidst pollen .
No words press past steadfast teeth;
anguished roots twist beneath.

I have been a seed-bearer, garden-wife,
mother, harvester of life from chaos.
I captured seeds in my mouth and hands;
from them built glimmering green worlds, filled with
tiny eyes. Shining things, everywhere looking,
blinking off the curse. Sunlight seeps into bones.
My skin, spotted and stretching, bears me
across fallow flowerbeds. I remember hearing
in my throat, before the blooms, the sound,
before the shoot was out of the ground.

Soil fills slippers, licks my smallest toes, limbs
bend like twigs in a dream of heaven
without you. Rows of flowers, waving;
Winds caress me as you didn’t. Feeling tug of
soft earth, wet, accepting; it melds around
my feet. Bones are sap-ridden; I am slimmer
than even the wispy girls you dream. My hair, the
leaves, speak older words together than we know,
when I am in your garden. My bamboo flesh, for years,
already bore the scars of secret tears.

This glosa is based on the translation by A.C. Graham, as published in Poems of the Late Tang (Penguin Books, 1977).

While I include it as part of the Taiping! series, it in fact dates back much earlier, to 1997.

February 8, 2012

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