Two Poems

What One Leaf Tells

In the wind, questions to heaven bang
the white poplar. Answers fracture –

a thousand white leaves. A thousand
blameless mouths. A thousand. Ten
thousand colorless excuses;

I pick one up. Grip tightly
as though holding the whole

tree. Indeed, Qu Yuan says, the leaf,
more than the tree, tells the truth
about the tree. Indeed, Tang people

say the leaf lays bare great secrets
of autumn. But all I see is one leaf.

What One Leaf Tells

leaf or leaves 

The image is a deconstruction of leaves. The character “leaf” is made of two parts, mouth 口 and ten 十. Kou (mouth) is a component of jiekou (excuse) and koushi (evidence); shi (ten) is a pun with shi (truth) in Chinese.



All day I daydream, an island so quiet
in water that even the water

doesn’t know I am here. A bird rises
over a peak where I awake. Winding below

is my body, four limbs, a river. All
night my eyes open wide, dark,

like the shadow of a bird’s
eyes reflecting in water. The eyes

of the bird open in mine, dark. Above
me a bird island is singing light

and sun-filled, good morning. With my
eyes in its eyes the bird sees what I see:

my home with coconut trees and
bananas. But it longs to leave me,

dreaming its own daydreams, in midair
becoming its very own island.


niao bird
dao island

These two words resemble each other in shape, and both contain an eye. They differ in that “island” has a mountain 山 inside its body. Both echo in sound with hao (good) and zao (morning) in Chinese.


Translations from the Chinese
By Carolann Caviglia Madden with the author

Ming Di is a poet from China, author of six poetry collections in Chinese and one in collaborative English translation, River Merchant’s Wife (Marick Press, 2012). She is the editor of New Cathay—Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Tupelo, 2013) and co-translator of Empty Chairs (Graywolf, 2015).

Carolann Caviglia Madden’s work has appeared in Women in Clothes (Penguin, 2014), Souvenir, Yalobusha Review, and elsewhere. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Houston.

Ming Di is a Chinese poet based in America with six books of poetry in Chinese and four in translation, including River Merchant’s Wife (2012). She edited and co-translated New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (2013) and co-translated The Book of Cranes (2015) and Empty Chairs: Poems by Liu Xia (2015).

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