Each morning before he gets up
To feed the chickens and milk the cow,
Han-Shan, propped among pillows, studies
The map of nameless places and lost
Addresses he keeps in his head:
He might as well consult the veins
On the back of his gnarled hand
Or count the rows of hair
As if they were tree-lined avenues,
So little information they give.
Somewhere in the maze of twists
And turns that leads his mind nowhere,
There is a valley of melons
And groves of plum trees:
Somewhere between the mountains.
Farther, at the foot of an abrupt
Plateau, there are plats of yellow
Poppies that vie for attention:
But where? In what precinct?
And where, in what latitude,
Under the first snow of the season,
Stand the young chestnut trees
That make so viable a plantation?
Where the venue of chestnut-fall?
If there were only a fingerpost
Or marked stone on the river-road
To go by! If only he could remember
The man who gave him directions
With an ivory-ringed hand.
Mists open and close like swept
Curtains, denying further inspection:
At the barn the young calf pleads
To be turned in with its mother.
The old mare drums a door
With impatient hooves.
There is a sudden outcry
Amount the white hens.
First light is not the time
To reckon foreign geographies.
Or tabulate the years in an age.
Yet as his feet grope in bedside
Darkness for his scattered shoes,
Han-Shan wonders if in that other
Realm the wheatfield is still on fire.