Li-Po, Larry and Bill: thoughts and poems inspired by the Chinese master poet

Over these last months of self-hibernation and self-reflection, my friend and fellow writer, William Burnett and I discussed our long-time interest in the classic Chinese poets. This included our reading and rereading of Li Po, Tu Fu, Weng Wang, and T’ao Ch’ien, all brought to the English-speaking ear by the master translator, David Hinton. As William and I meditated on these poems, our explorations into this work deepened, especially the poems of Li Po. We talked about how his short but pointed works brought us into a present that we’d not felt for a while. Being present and in touch with a presence are perhaps what poems do so well. We become aware—not necessarily of single objects or feelings, although all this certainly comes into play. We become aware of our awareness, this gentle, contentment and allusive balance that we can find then lose then find again. 

Li Po is the master of weaving cosmic whimsy with spiritual insight. Readers can find a deep connection as the poet takes us on condensed journeys of walking up a mountainside, viewing a branch in blossom, visiting an old friend, often Tu Fu, or feeling the pleasures of drinking too much wine. Both Bill and enjoyed our visits with Li Po, and they afforded us the chance for long rambling chats that moved well beyond the poetic. But the poems were always a touchstone to return to and recharge.  It was also a chance to walk out into our world and write impressions of our experiences, with our guide Li Po somewhere over our shoulders. Included here are a few pieces as we stood thousands of miles away from each other in the Northeast and Southwest of the U.S., but continually side by side.

in the Desert,
Life bristles—
Death only shows
pricklier thorns…

the blackened sticks
nearly disappear
their peeling bark
remain to chant 
their snow songs

axe-blade moon
faces morning-star—
wind, wind, wind
parches my eyes

deer tracks
stalk themselves
in concentric circles
in deerstalker caps
looking for clues
a mystery train hoofs 
through the woods

kestrel at dawn
breast turning east
glows faintly peach

glass globe snow
shakes through the trees
incandescent in the moonlight
each flake a ghostly raindrop

frost tonight—
cactus arms sprout
styrofoam cups

spruce and hemlock
greener now than in the summer
forgive my eye that overlooked you
until this snowbound day

Smoke from last night’s chimneys
  smudges my nostrils.

Ahead of the sun
  cold winds scour

kalichy and creosote,
saguaro and mesquite.

I chip ice along the path
in my downy snowsuit
without a cocktail
within sight


William G. Burnett is a seeker who  writes, plays classical guitar, reads Sophocles, and cultivates qi in the Sonoran Desert.  He dwells in Tucson, Arizona.

Laurence Carr is the publisher of

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