A Toast to the Ancient Poet Li Po

Susan Cohen

Overcome, verging on sorrow and lament,
I pour another drink. Soon, awaiting

this bright moon, I’m chanting a song.
And now it’s over, I’ve forgotten why. – Li Po

 

In gorges, gibbons howled and Li Po
drank the wine of wandering.

Forever drunk, I face rock-born moon, he sang
and swilled in bamboo huts by moonlit banks.

Slippery with wine one night, Li Po saw the moon
silver and wiggling in the current of a river.

He jumped in to embrace it. You can guess
how this thousand-year old story ends.

Maybe you, too, adore wine’s slow lap
around your tongue, that blossoming

into sloppy joy or companionable sorrow,
and there you are again –

a watery moon closing over you. Vowels slur
from Mile’s trumpet on your radio, then you

and wine are alone once more with friends,
some of them dead too young.

If you don’t drink wine
where are those ancient people now,

Li Po asked. And maybe you’re like him –
doomed to be a moon-gazer, perpetually

in exile – but trying to stay alert
to the line between intoxications

that set your sandals dancing on a mountain
and the ones that drown you.

 

Art by Evie Lovett

Susan Cohen is the author of the poetry collections, THROAT SINGING (WordTech Communications/Cherry Grove Collections, 2012) and the 2016 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Prize winner, A DIFFERENT WAKEFUL ANIMAL (Red Dragonfly Press, 2016). She has been nominated for five Pushcart Prizes and has appeared in American Journal of Poetry, Atlanta Review, Connecticut Review, Gargoyle, Greensboro Review, Harpur Palate, Jabberwock, Nimrod, Poetry East, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, Southern Review, and many others.