Lament for Baiji, Yangtze River Dolphin
Our People’s Republic’s opened like a giant
red flower – head turned to the West –
and ever since our world’s been going sour.
Along the Yangtze a filthy stream
of traffic pours – dredgers, barges, tourist
boats tossing our sampans aside.
They say it’s the way forward,
but this great river’s giving up the ghost –
and with no Fish or Shrimps to eat,
our River Dolphin’s vanished.
On the fifth day of the fifth month
our hut inspired hopeful aromas;
and women came with scarlet thread to tie
Bamboo leaves round homemade dumplings.
Pang was rosy-cheeked, scolding me
for my despondent moods. As usual we’d honour
Qu Yang, our patriotic poet – his ‘Lament for Ying’
and drowning in the river.
Legend tells that fishermen threw dumplings in
to tempt the River Dragons from the poet’s body;
but we believe our sleek Baiji came clicking,
whistling him away.
Cheer up, Huang! Pang urged me.
Soon young men with boats and drums
will sound the Dragon’s heart.
Soon after Duan Wu the Sun attains its peak
and we need the rains to plant our rice;
last year they didn’t come – for months the soil
was bones boiled and set like glue.
But this is Duan Wu in Golden Pig year,
Dragons will surely bring the rains!
Father smoked and watched her wrap the sticky parcels,
his face a haze of bluish mist;
he remembered the Great Leap Forward,
how Mao denounced the tales that kept our Dolphin safe.
Superstitious maybe, but old men like Father
would never hunt them for their flesh. Those who hurt Baiji
are always cursed, he said.
Now Pang is patching trousers –
her sewing brings a little income;
she sighs and glances up. In the wintry light
her face is drawn, aged.
My good wife looking like a stranger!
I search my thoughts for something
to restore her cheerful smile –
a little joke, a reminiscence?
But hunger’s gnawing at my belly
and I’ve no strength to break the silence;
this year even Golden Pig was out of luck –
the rains arrived, but heavier than we’d ever known.
How long we’ll survive
lies with the gods – perhaps no longer
than our flower can
with growth devouring its heart?