Odd yell out in the forest. Five-twenty in the morning and its pitch black. It was an animal I suspect. But it could have been a woman. Unnerving, I was frightened suddenly. It didn’t sound like my daughter, though I walked out in the hall to be sure. It didn’t sound like me wife, either. I thought of my older daughter. But she isn’t here right now. I put on the back yard flood lights. Nothing but the lawn and the cedar tree out there to consider. And now I am on two conference calls at once. Both muted, turned down low.
A book of Wang Anshi’s poems arrived yesterday. David Hinton writes with brio about Chinese spirituality, about medieval poetry and in the introduction to this collection he points out that the great prime minister, who’d done so much to change Chinese state craft, took up a wondering life of Chan Buddhist reflection, meandering around, unkempt, writing immortal poetry form the age of fifty-five, which of course made me reflect upon my own fifty-four years of life. I put down the book and sat there on the can thinking about that for a moment before commencing these calls.
My wife and I had a nice walk out on the trail yesterday afternoon. I proposed trying to learn a classical Chinese poem, one from Wang Wei, one from Tao Yuan Ming, one from Du Fu. I could memorize them and try to recite them at dinner. But my real objective was for being able to use them in the wild, when I have my next Beijing cab ride, whenever that might be. The poems chosen, therefore can’t be obscure. I’m looking for “four score and twenty years ago . . .” -type familiarity. Maybe more appropriately familiar for my homeland would be “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones . . .”
I tried to recite the Wang Wei poem a "On the Mountain Holiday Thinking of my Brothers in Shandong" (九月九日忆山东兄弟) over lunch just now. I'd finished my bowl of papaya and banana and the Mrs. asked me to read one aloud. It always sounds a bit absurd when you read along with tonal markers and inadvertently exaggerate the rising and the falling. My little one speaks well, but I’m never quite sure how well she reads in Chinese. Certainly, better than I but that’s not saying so much. She only flubbed two or three of the fifty characters in Tao Yuan Ming’s “Drinking Wine, Number 5.” She’d left “Chinese” middle school after grade six and literacy is less firmly anchored than for her older sister who left at the beginning of high school. I'll let you know when I'm able to do one of these from memory.