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A Free TranslationCraig Raine
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Vol. 3 No. 1 · 22 January 1981
Poem

A Free Translation

Craig Raine

213 words

(for Norma Kitson)

Seeing the pagoda
of dirty dinner plates,
I observe my hands

under the kitchen tap
as it they belonged
to Marco Polo:

glib with soap,
they speak of details
from a pillow book,

the fifty-seven ways
in which the Yin
receives the Yang.

Rinsed and purified,
they flick off drops
like a court magician

whose stretching fingers
seek to hypnotise
the helpless house ...

This single bullrush
is the silent firework
I have invented

to amuse the children.
Slow sideboard sparkler,
we watch its wadding

softly fray.
Your skein of wool
sleeps on the sofa,

a geisha girl
with skewered hair,
too tired to think

of loosening ends,
or fret forever
for her Samurai,

whose shrunken ghost
attacks the window pane –
still waspish

in his crisp corselet
of black and gold
hammered out by Domaru.

In coolie hats,
the peasant dustbins
hoard their scraps,

careless of the warrior class ...
It is late, late:
we have squeezed

a fluent ideogram
of cleansing cream
across the baby’s bottom.

It is time to eat
the rack of pork
which curves and sizzles

like a permanent wave
by Hokusai,
time to bend

to a bowl of rice,
time to watch
your eyes become

Chinese with laughter
when I say that
orientals eat with stilts.

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