tien kuan

for j.h.

“Confucius bowed at the palace gates nine times, according to the ancient style, although not modern practice. Soon after, it became modern practice.” –The Mencius

Frost ringed glass, tightening streams
of ancient light, sailed years–
splashing off my mirror,
pushing through my eye–
then ices breathe through slowly,
as withered branches trace the sky
and the earth crunches, wind’s wild murmurs shuddering
as they have before–while yellows
haze from an ancient point:
Tien Kuan.

when Master Kung bowed, men were shamed
that style once nudged tradition.
with careful phrases
minute in simple complexity, framed
obvious, teaching easy might, stormed an empire.
toppled capitals, and throned two thousand years
humanity and strength, and lip service to them.

mixed, and spoken,
common sense lay defined, in ways
no emperor would dare, for fear
they would be listened to, and learned.

Master Kung erupted, teaching out
the centuries, and Tien Kuan entertained
a shining guest-star, the brightest at night
and second at day–casting shadows on old snow,
it didn’t last–outshining so much,
except for Kung–

That star faded quickly. A mist remains, a fainted hint
That needs my white-lipped cannon’s lens
To pull into sight. that light left long ago,
I’m alone out here, haunting Tien’s country.
most prefer to read about him,
not him.

The books that saw it survived the flames,
and Old Tien himself
guards it resolutely–never swayed
never wavered. His skies have been empty
of guest stars, three hundred years–but
Tien Kuan awaits another, to see the remnants
breathed into beacons again.

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