Reading Li Bai During Social Distancing

By Jenna Le

Featured Art: Peony – side yard by Kayla Holdgreve

In Tang verse classics, lonely wives rebuff
the orioles that flirt amidst their flowers;
they’d rather climb steep observation towers
and, wrapped in tragic shawls atop a bluff,
command a view of miles on miles of rough
terrain uncrossed by human forms for hours
than lean into the softness of spring showers,
breezes, birdsong, and such sensual stuff.
Or so the male bards of the Tang portrayed them
when writing verses in a female voice;
I cannot blame them for it. Simple boys,
they merely wanted someone back at home
to miss them in their absence, to upbraid them
for being gone, to love them through a poem.

Jenna Le is the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2017), an Elgin Awards Second Place winner, and Manatee Lagoon (forthcoming, Acre Books). She was selected by Marilyn Nelson as winner of Poetry By The Sea’s inaugural sonnet competition. Her poems appear in AGNI, Denver Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Poet Lore, and West Branch.

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