Jianqing Zheng ~ Five Poems

Looking Twice

—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
of shadowscape.

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.