SPIRITED QUESTIONS OVERHEARD
Very Old Madame Yin Asks Very Old Minister Yang:
The evening, too brief for idleness, must you chatter
on the subject of fresh air and unobstructed spaces?
Tossing — more than ideas in your bed,
why are you restless like Mounting Stag?
Too much happiness? Perhaps you need
ask physician if extravagant joy is injurious to the Heart?
Very Old Minister Yang Asks Very Old Madame Yin:
Memory prefers a nap — again I enquire
which part of you is like a watercourse?
After your name circles my lilies,
silver hair flowing like Celestial Horse,
can doubt and panic be left behind?
I cling to your answers — for what purpose
did we meet halfway up the mountain
to glimpse light and dark in each other's eyes?
From Notes On Text
extravagant joy is injurious to the heart (from Huang Di Nei Jing
translated by Ilza Veith).
I feel so very fortunate to be right in the thick of so much
marvellous poetry-making. Recently I went to the launch
of Cocky's Joy by Michael Farrell (Giramondo) and that is
a book and a half. As Laurie Duggan writes in the blurb —
“You feel there's a language being created here and yet it's
your own language.” So true.
And I came home to re read The Yellow Emperor by Michelle
Leber (Five Islands Press) to bring myself to the point where
I could pick just one for my Tuesday Poem deal, and there was
another wonderful book, a book and a half, under my hand.
Two wonderful books in one night! And of course the language
Yellow Emperor is couched in. What very difficult choices the
poet made, and with what a deft hand she made them. With
what subtle and seductive artistry. I did find this book a bit
of a struggle at first. Michelle has given us a foreword and
some after-notes to place us in the historical/legendary
milieu — just enough, not too much, not too little — so I
wasn't lost in that sense. What lost me was that I pride myself
on being a bit of a literary detective, and I could not penetrate
where this book had come from! I could sense an aftertaste
of Arthur Waley, and maybe a soupcon of Ezra Pound. But
none of my reading, which has been westerncentric, could help
me place the provenance. Of course, Michelle has been a lecturer
and clinician of Chinese Medicine for over twenty years. That
has informed the book. But what helped me in the end to get a
grip, was a certain sort of elliptical and enigmatic French film,
where the rules of engagement in conversation have a rock/
paper/scissors tone, and wit always wins.
To quote the last lines of the last poem in the book 'QI, Blood
And Essence' —
'Remember, the emperor and I
know where you live.'