under the cold mountain

bulgarian plate


Under the cold mountain, the maples are turning, bigleaf, delicate Japanese by the greenhouse. Pick up the leaves and marvel at their colour, the way they hold both dawn and dusk, pick them up, hold them in your hand as light as a dragonfly, a strand of scouring rush, a wish.


It was cold overnight and when you woke to pee just past midnight, hoping to see the moon (you missed the eclipse yesterday), when you woke, everything was muffled in frozen fog. A waning gibbous, not full like last night, ruddy as the leaves on the Bulgarian dish, stars above the fog, something in the eaves as you went back to bed.

Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!
                         –Du Fu, trans. David Hinton


Minus 3 as we drove out to swim. 0 in the greenhouse (a light clamped to the long shelf), and when we came back, the scent of clementines in the kitchen.



Under the cold mountain, the cedars are dying. Too many summers without rain. I think of Du Fu, lamenting the unused talents of great scholars, the wasted strength of good men. The cedars have defined our sense of our local woods, the ones on the shore of the lake, dying as we swam back and forth in their green shade, and we haven’t praised them enough. In this morning’s clear light, their orange fronds are falling like leaves, and soon they’ll fall too.

If a great hall should teeter, wanting rafters and beams,
Ten thousand oxen would turn their heads towards its mountain’s weight.
Its potential unrevealed, the world’s already amazed,
Nothing would stop it being felled, but what man could handle it?
Its bitter heart cannot avoid the entry of the ants,
Its fragrant leaves have always given shelter to the phoenix.
Ambitious scholars, reclusive hermits—neither needs to sigh;
Always it’s the greatest timber that’s hardest to put to use.
                                             –Du Fu

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