Colin and I went to China in May 2002. We were on one of the last cruises through the Three Gorges Passage. Our cruise took us from Chongquing to Wuhan. We saw the construction site of the hydroelectric dam which has transformed the valley into a deep, current less reservoir. Eight thousand archaeological sites have disappeared. More than a million people were moved from their homes. 28,000 acres of farmland and around 20 cities and towns have been submerged. I wrote the poem when I came home.
The Yangtze: Three Gorges
Coiled with mist, the cliffs rise
half a mile into the sky.
Looking up, past the trackersâ€™ path,
past the hanging coffins, past the caves,
past the stunted trees,
I see deep blue sky.
Rising Cloud Peak.
Sage Spring Peak.
The riverboat passes villages, orange groves,
fields of pink peach blossoms.
Tall limestone walls dwarf the town.
The river roars.
followed by quiet.
Fish inscribed on White Crane Ridge:
two carp facing upstream,
one with a lotus sprig in his mouth,
mark ancient low-water levels.
On the road: barbers, plumbers, food sellers.
A welder creates jewelry with his blowtorch,
fired by a garden hose and a bottle of gasoline,
his foot pressing the bellows.
Under a red umbrella a woman sleeps,
sweet slices of watermelon by her side.
Children squat with a deck of cards.
Small groups of people eat noodles out of bowls.
Dressed in a tattered gown of silk
embroidered with dragons, an old man
sits near a persimmon tree.
All this will be underwater soon:
the temple with its wooden pavilions,
pagodas, loggias, reflecting pool,
the monkeys scampering among altars;
the storefronts, streets, houses, fields of rice.
What will happen to the Siberian cranes,
the white flag dolphin, the Chinese sturgeon,
the house tucked under a tree?
What will happen to the barbers, sellers, plumbers,
the little girl in yellow jelly shoes,
her mother selling Camel cigarettes?
In a home in Suzhou I saw this poem
on a piece of wood shaped like a banana leaf:
My mind-heart is like the reflection of the moon
in a deep pond on a snowy night
my creativity blooms like flowers
after the spring rain
The old towpath clings to the rock face, high
on the north side of the mountain.
Trackers pulling boats on the Yangtze
sing back and forth, strange chanting melodies.