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——---—Changsha, Hunan Province

The Yellow River begins in heaven,
a student recites at my daughter’s school.
Its waters run to the sea and never return.

I’ve asked for a poem; she offers this one
in Chinese, then English, her translation simple.
The ancients, she says, thought rivers began in heaven.

Don’t they? But I’m too amazed to listen.
We have the same words, I say. In our ancient Bible:
all the rivers run to the sea. But ours return.

Ecclesiastes, chapter one, verse seven:
All the rivers run to the sea, yet the sea is not full.
They return to the place they began. Can he mean heaven?

In the meantime, I find her poem: Li Bai, drunk again.
Ecclesiastes might just mean nature’s cyclical:
There’s nothing new under the sun. All things return.

His solution? Eat, drink, and be merry. Li Bai’s? More wine.
He’s got a fine horse and furs he’s willing to sell.
They’re locked in a drunken shouting match in heaven.
They return… They never…return…never…return

 

 


Jacqueline Osherow’s most recent collection is My Lookalike at the Krishna Temple (LSU); Divine Ratios is forthcoming in 2023. She’s received Guggenheim, NEA, and Ingram Merrill Fellowships, as well as the Witter Bynner Prize. She is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah.

 

 

 

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