Apricots Died Young [excerpt]

Chiao Meng

Apricots died young in blossoms still nipples. Frost cut them free, and their scattering made me
mourn the child I had long ago,
so I wrote this poem.

1

Don't fondle these pearls.  O hands of ice,
fondle pearls and they're quick to fly.

And don't cut spring short, sudden frost.
Cut spring short and that blaze of beauty's lost.

Still nipples, tiny blossoms fall in tatters
tinged pure as a child's robes long ago.

I gather them, never filling my hands,
and at dusk, grief empty, return home.

 
3

It must be this same thread of tears
piercing the hearts of spring trees:

before blossoms opened anywhere,
flake after flake fell to the blade.

Spring's life never lasts, it's true,
but my lament over frost is already

impossibly deep.  Instead of blossoms
bathing streams, tears bathe robes.

 
4

At our son's birth, the moon was dark,
and when he died, it began to shine.

Moon and child, they stole each other
away.  O scarcely lived child of mine,

what's it like, blossom after blossom,
if not endless blue heavens in lament,

sweetness falling into earthen dust,
nothing left to bloom in other times?

 
8

Calamity infecting a child is natural:
blossoms mostly fail.  Still, I gather

ruins of the heart, a spent old man
cradling love's debris in endless night.

What can be said once sound dies away?
And once hope's dead, song's useless.

Old and sick--no child, no grandchild,
I stand like bundled firewood, alone.

From The Late Poems of Meng Chiao translated by David Hinton, published by Princeton University Press. Copyright © 1996 David Hinton. Used with permission.

Chiao Meng