Flapping broke the Peng bird’s wing, / But its wind will stir the world forever.
-Li Bai’s final poem “Death Song”
Let feathers fall as they’ll fly: On the moon,
like stone. In water, they sway, reflected
as they drown, Li Bai-like—by which I mean drunk,
in love with the moon of the river. Line up for
ledge-stands, children, books open. This lesson
concerns whether stones can develop wings.
First, a page on Li Bai, who lost his wings.
He set two fans scapula-high and tried to woo the moon
while her face rested on the Yangtze. The lesson
says his robes flamingoed skyward—a reflection,
the people thought, of success. But please see Figure Four,
which shows how he crashed, hands-first, like a drunk
into cake. Of course, by a drunk,
I mean the Peng bird, and cake means the wings
of his last river. Children, I’d like for
you to consider the ghost of the moon
in water’s mirror—some say it’s a reflection
of heaven, others say it’s flying stone. The lesson
here: Teachers lie, so field-test your lessons.
If the moon calls, say maybe. I mean, get drunk
on rum or hope; glue feathers; tie springs. Reflect:
How best to climb the wind? Kids, you must make wings.
They say Mount Tanggula rises moonward
like balloons do, but that’s a metaphor.
It erodes daily, dwindling before
the Yangtze, where waves recite the lessons
of men who flew like hunted ducks into the moon’s
pale image. I mean, they jumped. Some were drunk.
Know that not all who leap discover their own wings,
but some manage to can-can dance on down, reflected
in the river’s blue, which is sky reflected
over riverbed. It hides pebbles that yearn for
a current to launch them high, but stones don’t gain wings
just by wishing, my featherless sons
and daughters. Close your books. Once you’ve drunk
deep of open air, step as if onto moon-
face reflected in a river. Mere lessons
can’t fortify you, my darling stones, so the drunker,
the better. I mean, may wings swim you to the moon.