Issue > Poetry
Justin Belote

Justin Belote

J S Belote is a graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University MFA program. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Poem from the Chinese


Late one year I rowed upriver
to where both banks were
blanketed by peach blossoms.  
Gazing at the reddened trees
I had no idea
how far I'd gone. This far

& the whole time I'd seen no one.
I was content
in my solitude. When the oars stung the water
small whirlpools traveled out.

On a whim
I tied my boat to a stump, hid
the oars among snapped bamboo,
& set off on foot.

I found a deep cave. Through it
I came to a mountain overlook.
Clouds & fields gathered together
in the distance, & nearby, among numerous homes,
flowers & bamboo were scattered.

I spoke to a man gathering firewood.
His name was old
& the clothes he wore
were from another time. He told me to escape
violence & political disputes, the people
had come to this valley long ago,
laid their fields & built their homes
above the river.

They were friendly, & competed
to invite me in. They gave me wine
in green bottles & rushed to
slaughter their chickens.

The days were full of laughter,
& the nights of games & music.
Beneath the pines & moon
there was no other sound
beside us, bickering like old friends
about rules & music.
The moon sung with our voices.

For seven days I stayed,
but I knew I'd have to leave.
I was born in the month of the twin,
my heart doesn't allow me peace.
Inside me there is another
who kicks & kicks. On the eighth day
I packed my things. I went

from the mountain overlook
to the deep cave.
I found my boat
filled with brown peach blossoms.
I swept them into the shade & water.
I floated back down the river.

Months went by. The men & animals
wheeled through space. I sat alone
in my room, grim.
When I closed my eyes I saw
peach blossoms on dark water.
The bamboo & flowers
wouldn't leave my mind.

I set off again. By memory
I went the way I went before,
but the hills & gullies were
impossible to recognize. The rains
had changed them completely.  

I passed by ten thousand reddened trees
& heard no voices or singing, no chickens
or the distant sound of sweeping,
no music. Ten thousand more trees
& still nothing.
There was no way back to that place.

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