LS (2/11/1943 / Mingo Junction, Ohio)

Tu Fu Counts His Blessings

Sparrows gather in the back yard
and sit on the fence posts
without any necks. Last summer
we fed them sunflower seeds.
Now our own stores are so low
I sneak the food of birds.
Jobless for almost a year now
I sold our beloved dog to hunters
to pay a little rent. My wife
cleans the houses of others, yet
neglects our own. We have so little hope.
My boy wears my old shoes
stuffed with newspaper
to school with his friends—
none of them better than the rest.

The poems I write at night
do nothing to heat this house.
Our bodies are so cold
they shake as trains go rattling by.
The sink will not drain, and
I’ve already sold my tools.
We can’t afford a plumber
so I go walking down the street
asking the help of others. No soap.
At noon I slip into a little tavern
and sit inside the dark—
without a dime to my name.
My father’s curse when I left the farm
to work in the mills. “You’ll starve”
he called as I drove away. The chickens
up in the trees. An old friend
at the bar buys me a beer, and I
repay him with a smile that costs
me a sharp pain to the gut.
The sins of a father to fail
those who love him
can’t be washed away.

Out in the street I meet my wife
and her silent face scream into my own.
Together we walk back to our little house
where our young daughter Li Mei wraps
her thin arms around my legs.

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