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Clade Song 10

Thinking of the Sorrow of Li Po, I Drink Oolong Tea Fireside on a Cold February Night, Remembering How He Cared for a Friend in What He Called The Burial of Scraped Bones

I am restless as any cup of oolong
nearing the throat’s border.
The way boiling water for tea
brings the soil of the mountain into
me. And all the centuries collapse
my breath into an exile from itself.
All my life I’ve wanted woods. Wanted
hound dogs to howl away any lonely note
the geese might give as they glide over,
searching for a cut of ice, a clear winter
stream. We call the night wind
down into us as if it were a train
whistle carving the dark. The migration
of souls into others makes me
nervous. This particularly
cherished life is the only one I can
say for calm. Certain I know I was once
the pine wind loosening Wang Wei’s sash
when he chanted, In late years I love only
the stillness. Shame on the geese who echo
into me. Shame on elms whose stark branches
stand long winter stumps and sassafras hollows
of the throat. Shame on you, Li Po, dying
over and again with each poem of yours that bleeds
into me. Reading my bones. How still
is the centuries’ cold? How old my throat?
How roused a hound dog’s snout
when it trees a possum to coax the dark?
There is darkness, too, inside this old mouth.
Darkness inside the marsupial pouch.
Darkness in the give and grit
of the world’s molecular weight. Sixty-four years
I keep fearing what I’ve been told
is a gravelly death. Fireside,
reading your poems tonight,
I am locked in the polar vortex
of Indiana, locked in all your years
at the northwest frontier bordering the Tartars
and bands that threaten the T’ang.
The strangeness of your southern tribal ritual
you called the burial of scraped bones.
All your years of wandering wander
into me, feeding the train whistle’s
whinge. The frozen breaches of the night.
The cold’s slow bones that break
the slur of a word. Birds
that in their miraculous flight
somehow hold the sky and all your loss.
As their impossible bodies, hollow.
Blurred. Blow both into me and through.





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George Kalamaras, former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016), is the author of fifteen  books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.