—Tracy Sweeney’s Rain in Moonlight (oil on wood)
The rain strings a gloomy tune
for the line dance of trees,
the sky beats its heart drum
to silence the croaking frogs,
the moon veils her face
behind fleeting clouds.
This is a shadowscape
of white birches swaying,
rustling and shimmering
for a chromesthesia
of what they are or are not.
Looking back at my life
in the Mississippi Delta,
I see those thirty years
have grown into a grove
The longer you stay,
the less you see clearly
whether your life is
an oil painting or a woodblock
with no neutral colors.
—William Dunlap’s Walker Hound and Allegory
After typing the poem,
I unleash my mind
for a walk down the boulevard.
It ambles lightheartedly,
tail wagging. Now and then
it sniffs at the warm light
cast by the receding sun
as if it’s a bone it wants to bite.
After it gets to the Tallahatchie Bridge
and barks like a farewell bell
to the last twilight
dimming behind dark clouds,
it turns back to trot
homeward like a tap dancer.
As evening rolls out its black luster,
lights come up all at once,
changing the boulevard
into a lighted runway.
Days in London
A found poem after H.D.’s End of Torment
Ezra Pound rushes to Oxford Circus where Hilda
rents a room and blares, “I as your nearest male relation…”
Then he hails a taxi and pushes her in. On their way
to Victoria Station, Pound pounds his verdict
with his cane: “You cannot travel with that couple.”
On the platform, the man hands back the check
made out by Hilda for her travel. Her apology
a plane leaf drifting on wind. Pound stares
like a threshold guardian until the train pulls out.
One day Pound hurtles into St. Faith’s Hospital,
stomping restlessly and waving his ebony cane
like a baton while icy words clink out of his mouth:
“My only criticism is that this is not my child.”
Tight-lipped, Hilda turns her back on his torment.
When Ezra Was a Freshman
A found poem after H.D.’s End of Torment
He wore lurid, bright
socks ruled out for freshmen and
sophomores threw him
in the lily pond
and nicknamed him Lily Pound.
He often wrote me
a sonnet per day,
bound in a parchment folder.
He also read them
in a voice that was
so passionate, but to me
so painful because
his reading was like
the humming of a chainsaw.
He was not a good
dancer with no ear
for music. His clumsy steps
made us both suffer.
The Story Behind Ulysses
Found sonnets after Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company
In the summer of 1920, at André Spire’s party,
Sylvia roamed into a room lined with books
to find herself shaking hands with James Joyce.
He came to Paris on Ezra Pound’s advice.
Sylvia started to talk about her bookshop
Shakespeare and Company when a dog’s
bark across the street surprised Joyce.
Bitten by a dog on the chin at five, Joyce
had been afraid of dogs. He grew a goatee
to hide the scar. The next day, he paid
a visit to Sylvia. Seated in the armchair,
he whined about his three urgent needs:
finding a roof for his family, feeding them,
and finishing Ulysses he’d been working on.
Another day, Joyce appeared again, droning
on and on that his novel would never come out.
Sylvia offered her hand. She decided to print
a sales sheet to announce that Shakespeare & Co
would publish Ulysses in the fall of 1921.
Subscriptions flocked in. Some French friends
said in an amusing way that Ulysses
would enlarge their English vocabulary.
Gide rushed in to order a copy to show his
support of the cause of free expression.
Hemingway ordered a few copies. Pound
put on her table a subscription from Yeats.
But Bernard Shaw replied that Joyce was a
“barbarian beglamoured by the excitements …”
Around the time, Joyce struggled to make ends
meet, so the money flew from the bookshop’s
cashbox to his empty pockets as if they must
be filled. On February 1, 1921, the printer’s
telegram required Sylvia to meet the express
from Dijon next morning at 7. She waited
and paced back and forth on the platform.
Her heart chugged when the train arrived.
The conductor got off with a parcel for her.
Sylvia went all the way to Joyce’s place,
putting in his hands the very first copy
of Ulysses, a surprise gift on his birthday.
The cover was in Greek blue, and the title
and Joyce’s name were in white letters.
When all the copies arrived, to Joyce’s dismay,
some were in white jackets and looked like
lackeys. Copies sent to American subscribers
were confiscated at the port in New York.
Joyce stopped seeing Sylvia for a while in 1931,
but almost every day a friend of his showed up
to urge her to relinquish the claims to Ulysses:
“You’re standing in the way of Joyce’s interests.”
His words shocked her. As soon as he left,
Sylvia gave Joyce a call, speaking to him
in a firm voice that he was free to dispose of
Ulysses in whatever way that suited him.
Then she hung up with a sneer: “The baby
belongs to its mother, not to the midwife…”
Jianqing Zheng is the author of The Dog Years of Reeducation (Madville Publishing, 2023), A Way of Looking, which won the 2019 Gerald Cable Book Award, and Delta Sun (haiku and photographs). His newest chapbook is Just Looking: Haiku Sequences about the Mississippi Delta. His poetry has recently appeared in Drifting Sands Haibun, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Mississippi Review.