— For the lacquer painter Tang Mingxiu
Living next door, there's a lacquer painter,
While in my courtyard there's a lacquer tree.
When he paints lacquer paintings, using lacquer's radiance
I think of my writing poetry, breaking phrases into lines.
But that's another matter. One day I asked him
By what means the lacquer tree was turned into pigment.
The answer was:
"Extracted from the tree resin, as simple as that"—
Back home I wrote down this line. But that's another matter.
I started to scrutinize the lacquer tree. Another question.
This time being quite drunk he had much more to say:
"Lacquer turns black in the atmosphere; that is the lacquer's dying."
I imagined a bowl brimming with black
Lacquer, fast asleep. The world had undergone changes.
My poetry subsequently suffered temptation.
I thus wrote: "A siren out in the courtyard
Now from its very own crimson red cave-dwelling
Is chanting time." "But still it is one man's tree of knowledge."
Thus I wrote another line, free of taboos.
Just then, down came somebody else from the hills;
He went past, body lacquer-bitten, driven,
Itching, away. Perhaps he was The Odyssey;
If not, he was a more recent, even more youth-
Ful deity. Only, this his long-suffering body
Could not sit down. But though that was another matter,
There on the steps that led to the water-pond,
From this his spectre-like peasant man's face,
I'm sure I saw: if he took just one more step
He'd fly off in the air.