Reading the News and Thinking of the T'ang Poets | Arts Feature | Indy Week
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Reading the News and Thinking of the T'ang Poets 

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.


Today our news is much the same.

Near Srebrenica, skulls dot fields

like cabbages, while in Rwanda,

the short tribe hacked up the tall.

"Blood is smeared on bush and grass,"

yet poetry persists through slaughter,

as if the systoles in our raging hearts

held rhythms that could heal, if heard.

More by John Balaban

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