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BOMBS AND POETRY
before I left the house
I told my son
that evening
I was going
to the Second Artillery Force College of Engineering
to talk to a group of students learning how to make missiles
about poetry
I told him: what you have to do
is behave yourself
and stay put
until your mother gets home

that evening
after I’d gone
my son must have been confused
he couldn’t figure out
how his father
who could only talk about poetry
had the right
to go and lecture
people who would one day be making missiles
missiles were so awesome
while poetry was stuff like
“Before my bed there is bright moonlight . . .”*

three hours later
when I got back
my wife was already home
my son was still not in bed
he asked me
if I had seen any missiles
no, I said, and added:
I had seen the money and that was fine
I handed him
an envelope given to me by a colonel
he counted the money in it
then said to me
next time, go and give a talk
to people making atom bombs
they’re sure to give you even more
  
 
 
 

Translator's Note: * Yi Sha makes a reference here to a classical Tang-dynasty poem, Li Bai’s ‘Quiet Night Thoughts’ (Jing ye si). As Arthur Cooper notes in his Li Po and Tu Fu, ‘This must be the best known now of all Chinese poems . . .’. The quatrain goes on: ‘So that is seems like frost on the ground: / Lifting my head, I watch the bright moon, / Lowering my head, I dream that I’m home.’