Abing Speaks to the Moon About the Loss of His Vision
Cast out into the streets, I curse
this skin-tight hour of slumbering
& waking. Curse this blight that evicted
your light from the guesthouses
of my eyes. All winter, I petitioned the sky
to revoke its decree of heavy snow,
prayed for the boiling tide in my lungs
to ebb—so that the steel strings between
my fingers could speak again in worship
of the fleeting quiet before each dawn
with the faith & fluency of a rooster.
Instead, fever licked my vision bone-clean.
Whittled my body down to such lightness
I wore it through the day like a whispered
confession. But even in such losses
there’s a sacredness. A hymn. As darkness
rises like steam behind my eyes, my hearing
brightens into ice: I hear summer moult
into autumn, persimmons untethered
from stalwart branches thudding
to the ground like bells of flesh.
I hear the precise, surgical knife
of each pitying sigh as a coin glides
like a cold note along the chipped edge
of my china bowl, finally coming to rest
at its centre the way a shiver lands in the small
of my back when the wind trespasses.
Faithful listener in the tree. Let me
lay down this vagrant life at your feet
& run a palm along the slender neck
of my erhu. Feel the strings eager
to unstitch the stillness as my heart turns
from barrenness toward praise.
Note: This poem is part of a series of poems I’m working on about the life of the blind Chinese folk musician, Abing (1893-1950), famed for his erhu performances. He lived a vagrant life during the years of Japanese invasion of China.
Gavin Yuan Gao is a Meanjin-based poet and translator. In 2019, he was shortlisted for the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared in Meanjin, Peril, Cordite, Stilts, Australian Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.