This happened in Jiangnan Province in 1658—on Mao Xiang’s country estate, Chen Weisong met and flirted with a servant Xu Ziyun beneath the plum trees. Chen was thirtytwo years old and Xu was fifteen and famous for his flute playing. When Mao wanted to punish Xu for aspiring above his status, Chen pleaded on the servant’s behalf. Mao demanded from Chen one hundred poems on the subject of the plum blossom the next morning in exchange for not punishing Xu. After Mao had received the poems, he released Xu to Chen. Being only one tenth the poet Chen Weisong was, I wrote “Ten Poems on the Plum Blossom” for my Xu who is also my Mao.
The old branch blossoms in the snow,
pink lips on a low brown bough.
I see your face in the whitewashed hall
and remember home in Singapore.
Back home in Velvet Underground last year,
you stuttered your coming out in a poetry slam.
I did not hear your pink confession then.
Now in New York, I hear you loud and queer.
Walking down Broadway, you digress to decree
which man scorches or not. Sharp noses, those
Jews’, are extremely hot. Alternately
hot and cold, I try not to think of my nose.
You do not see the tea list right before
your nose; the waitress and I laugh at you.
I muss up your hair—no white streak—
almost kiss the petal of your cheek.
Plum blossoms keep me up all night,
keep flowering slowly from my lesion,
flowering for no one, no reason.
Then daylight swabs the window white.
Why am I not your type? Both Prunus mume,
both poets, Singaporeans, shy, unsavvy
men clambering up, hoping to get some...
fruit from a different tree? A chokecherry?
Your Puerto Rican cherry’s sweet: he runs
his mother’s errands and, though home by nine,
tumbles more men than you and I combined.
How can I compete, souring in the sun?
In your “The Astronaut and the Samurai,”
their culture clashes bar them from the sky.
Not now. Age is the newer prejudice—
old shoguns order flowers, not harakiris.
In a short decade, you’ll turn thirtyfour
and long for a man a decade younger. Breech
bluelashed to the gnarled stake, you’ll reach
for pink buds and they will dance away, draw closer, dance away once more.
Chinese plums do not ripen to rich blue,
delicious, cold and sweet. They do not bruise.
You know as well as I, they turn yellow and hard
stored in your golden vase, turn small and tart.