How can I paint Winter Landscape with Temples
and Travellers, or Five-Colour Parakeet
on Blossoming Apricot Tree?
The oracle boxes are empty
and the Minister with a Brief for Charming Explanation
has signed a licence (to the army) for the forest to be cut,
ordered satin linings to his red kimono
and is drinking with the General
in what he says is the best restaurant in town,
attended by two fifteen-year-old girls:
handpicked, translucent brown jade.
Black tree stumps cool on the mountain,
sawmills slide out planks a hundred an hour
and white ash blooms over the river
while the courtier treats the General
to tiger penis soup, five hundred linu a bowl.
I’ll paint the bare burnt mamillated plain,
Flame of the Forest in its white and scarlet,
jack fruits and jacaranda, the stag in the sky
and the naming of stars, the three definitions of twilight
in Yunnan province where white-handed gibbons
used to sing their love duets.
I’ll paint the truth of illusion, a glossary
of atmospheric optics,
and Guanyin, Guardian of Compassion.
I’ll pay particular attention to her smile.