The Forest, the Corrupt Official and a Bowl of Penis Soup

Ruth Padel

How can I paint Winter Landscape with Temples
and Travellers
, or Five-Colour Parakeet

on Blossoming Apricot Tree?
The oracle boxes are empty

and the Minister with a Brief for Charming Explanation
has signed a licence to the army for the forest to be cut,

ordered satin linings to his red kimono
and is drinking with the General

in what he says is the best restaurant in town,
attended by two 15-year-old girls:

hand-picked, translucent brown jade.
Black tree-stumps cool on the mountain,

sawmills slide out planks a hundred an hour
and white ash blooms over the river

while the courtier treats the General
to tiger penis soup, five hundred linu a bowl.

I’ll paint the bare burnt mamillated plain,
Flame of the Forest in its white and scarlet,

jack fruits and jacaranda, the stag in the sky
and the naming of stars, the three definitions of twilight

in Yunnan province where white-handed gibbons
used to sing their love duets.

I’ll paint the truth of illusion, a glossary
of atmospheric optics,

and Guanyin, Guardian of Compassion.
I’ll pay particular attention to her smile.