My letter warned you not to go
--the war was merciless, the road
to the fleeing court equally difficult.
But bewitched, you set out
and left your wife and children behind.
Heaven knows how they get by--
perhaps starving, at night
trembling under a broken roof.
True, our duty is to serve the country,
but you, what can you do?
Can you wield a sword or lead troops?
Can you wave a banner or blow a bugle?
See, how easily the rebels
caught you and brought you here
to smell burned animals
and taste their barbaric music.
Five months ago we were besieged,
outside the city wall
the rebel army ready to charge in,
inside, our troops mounting defense.
Then the Emperor changed his mind--
the entire court fled toward Szechwan
leaving us civilians to defend Chang An.
How could we fight a quarter million
cavalry and swordsmen!
Just in one day the capital fell--
killing, screaming everywhere,
smoke blocking out daylight.
Now that you are in this trap
you'd better take it easy.
For the time being we are safe
(I gave a singing girl
to a rebel general).
But don't stroll on the streets
with your neck so straight.
Don't wear your official cap--
allegiance to the court is a crime.
Don't chant in the park.
Some barbarians understand your words
and will behead you for that.
Don't try to escape--
if they catch you, you'll be a goner.
Don't cry after drinking.
Many people are more miserable
than you and I.
after hearing you recite your poems
Lu Ben, the herbalist, took to his bed
saying he missed home.
He lost his only child last fall.
The country is broken,
but mountains and rivers remain.
Spring is here again,
cherries and apricots blooming.
Look, under the charred eaves
swallows are rebuilding their nests,
dragonflies flitting with skinny wings.
[Brooklyn, New York: Hanging Loose Press, 2001]