Jen Hyde translating 崔顥 (Cui Hao), 李白 (Li Bai), and 郑板桥 (Zheng Banqiao)

Correspondence from the Yellow Crane Tower
To Cui Hao:

Their people mounted the yellow crane
but who is freer at the top? The yellow crane
has been moving for a while, or is already
gone by the time my word arrives
that white clouds have emptied the air

forever. Finally, the clear day appears
over a clear crater lake.
            Hello Cui Hao,
from this world where the tree of life
is a fragrant bizarro of your life.

Tell me where the sun sets over your mountains.
From the crane I am saying goodnight, day
falling over the water
the worry are drops, like Visine
lightening the dust from your eyes.

To Li Bai:

Look west the yellow crane
or Bird I have renamed

you Li Bai you blossom
air out of air

I am still chasing
a fire with a purpose

whose lonely cry is yellow
over the mountain then brown

over the mountain the mountain
adrift the delta an opening into the blue

you prescribed horizons and I
am looking out for a change in the line

from flat to tower did you ever
think of fish when you lifted the river

over your face when the wine spoiled
when the moon too big and yellow grew

To Li Bai:

To Li Bai:

Be careful when you tell the doctor
the yellow crane tower cries.

I climbed here to blow wind through a lute
but sat on a short stool, hovered,

Huangshan over small plastic toys.
Li Bai, be a guest in my paper house.

Through mulberry curtains I am shaping
the moon by curling my fingers together.

This is a home that wants to be
a wooden house. Tomorrow I will

leave the lute and the yellow crane,
flown off to find you smelling plums.

To Zheng Banqiao from Dongting Lake:

Zheng Banqiao,

What rebuilds the sky
from ground zero
but a courtyard?

From here the yellow crane
swings its mouth over the trees.
Between fists of air

I grasp a blossom. Fruit
has been waiting
for my human hand.

The sun always signals the day
is falling over the mountains again.
The fish in the Yangzte are passing

through the ship locks, free.
And heaven is silver, floating
in the water you immortalized.

For Meng Haoren:

I am a guest and you are the moon
the lute played in the apartment

Or you collaged the awful world
to bear it as the life we have,
the pen as a wind instrument.

How do you lift the cold from
the sea when glass blocks fall?
And where have I been meanwhile?

I am lying in a boat, pushing my mind
into your lake I once floated with
my curved back in water.

Now I can count alone.
I can watch blankets glide down from
a high rise window

but I cannot say blanket
clear across to my neighbor.
Maybe this is prosperity

the mountains brought you
when finally you shout
from the yellow crane.

Translator's Note

When I was living in China in 2009 I took a boat downstream on the Yangzte River. My trip ended in Wuhan, at the site of The Yellow Crane Tower. Though the current tower is a replica of the towers upon which Cui Hao and Li Bai, and Zheng Banqiao wrote from, I couldn’t stop myself from hearing their voices within the new structure. Each time I go back to China I am searching for the origins of my family’s values and beliefs. I think I will make sense of my culture, which has been reshaped by expatriation and emigration, but instead I find myself in a world more modern and foreign than the cities from which I come. It is in strangeness and displacement that I find myself listening for and fabricating familiar voices.


Jen Hyde

Jen Hyde holds degrees from the Pratt Institute and NYU. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in No, Dear, Dear Sir, The Volta and Likewise Folio. She lives in Brooklyn and occasionally publishes chapbooks with Small Anchor Press.

崔顥 (Cui Hao)

崔顥 (Cui Hao) was a poet and court official who lived and wrote during the Tang Dynasty.

李白 (Li Bai)

李白 (Li Bai) was a poet and nomad who lived and wrote during the Tang Dynasty.

郑板桥 (Zheng Banqiao)

郑板桥 (Zheng Banqiao) was a painter and calligrapher who lived during the Qing Dynasty. His bamboo and orchid drawings are among the most common forms taught in Chinese brush painting today.