by John Balaban
illustration by Ippy Patterson
When Li Po tried to climb T’ai-hang,
he found its passes choked with snow.
Thwarted, he turned back to lowlands,
to streams sliding through bare willows
where he sat and fished and wrote a poem.
When young, he was a hsia avenger,
righting wrongs with a spoon-headed sword.
Old, he settled things by sitting still.
Before the rebels took Ch’ang-an,
Tu Fu escaped the fabled city
where Christian, Jew, and Manichaean
held court with Buddhists. The Emperor,
who wrote lyrics and composed, had fled.
Months later, crossing moonlit fields
stippled bright with human bones,
Tu Fu wrote that poetry is useless,
in a poem alive these thousand years.