When I arrived in John’s room this afternoon, hoping to be present when the physiotherapist took him to climb stairs and then descend to the little rhyme we used this morning on the pretend stairs in the big room at the end of the hall–abc, able foot, bad foot, crutch; cba, crutch, bad foot, able foot— anyway, when I arrived in his room, he wasn’t there. His day nurse said he was on a different floor for an echo-cardiogram, required because of some irregularities in his heart beat. I sat in the big chair by the window, the soft needles of the pine outside almost brushing the glass, and read the preface to the book I brought him yesterday as an anniversary present: Written in Exile: the Poetry of Liu Tsung-yuan.
Liu Tsung-yuan (773-819) was considered one of the finest prose writers of the T’ang dynasty. Red Pine– the name Bill Porter uses for his translation work–was less familiar with his poetry and was surprised to discover his superb lyricism, evident in the work he gathered together in Written in Exile. I could have spent the afternoon reading not just the elegant and fascinating preface but the poems. Yesterday John showed me one about a one-legged crow. And then this, “River Snow”:
A thousand mountains and not a bird flying
ten thousand paths and not a single footprint
an old man in his raincoat in a solitary boat
fishes alone in the freezing river snow
I could have spent the afternoon reading but instead I washed my husband’s body while he braced himself on his walker, helped him back into his bed, arranged the soft flannel sheet over his legs. I want to be useful during this period and there will be time enough for poetry once we’re home and he’s healing. Looking ahead, I can almost see us by our winter fire, reading of one-legged crows and a thousand mountains.
Who can I talk with at night
if not these texts on bamboo and silk