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Fading Smile: A Triptych

by Mo Fu

translated from the Chinese by Michael Spence

i. The Poet Squats by the Edge of a Lake to Consider Nature

Green singer on pad
leaps, splashes mud on my pants:
frog legs for dinner.

ii. The Poet Ponders the Difference Between Hope and Perseverance

A glacier worn down
by its slow course, leaving just
grit that will not melt.

iii. The Poet Thinks of His Parents’ Death

Pine and willow gone—
wind that comes across the plain
now blows full on him.


Mo Fu (800–869 A.D.), a distant relative of Du Fu, though little known outside a coterie of intensely devoted followers during his lifetime, has recently drawn the attention of scholars working in the more obscure corners of Chinese poetry. A noted wag and raconteur, he is rumored to have once carried on simultaneous conversations with a dozen acolytes for five days straight, pausing only to drink copious amounts of plum wine. About this, his sole libation, he wrote: “I know not—does wine / fuel my pen, or do my words / cry out to be drowned?”

Michael Spence has driven public-transit buses in the Seattle area for over twenty-five years. His work has appeared recently in The Chariton Review, The New Criterion, The New York Quarterly, The Sewanee Review, and the anthology New Poets of the American West. Other poems are forthcoming in Sewanee Theological Review, Southwest Review, and the anthology Many Trails to the Summit. His third book, Crush Depth, was published last year by Truman State University Press. (1o/2010)

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