Thatched house destroyed by an autumn storm
In September, on a high-sky autumn day,
the gale's angry howl blows the heavy
thatch from the house. Straws and reeds
fly across the bank, scattering in the fields;
some hang in the upper branches, some swirl
and sink into the puddle-ponds.
Knowing I am old and frail, the children
from the southern village gang together
openly, gathering the reeds in their arms,
and disappear into the bamboo forest.
I shout and scream, my throat dry, my lips
burnt, but they don't return. I walk home,
leaning on my walking stick, talking to myself.
Suddenly the wind drops.
The ink-clouds turn the autumn sky
into a dark desert. The threadbare quilt
is cold as iron. My son's not sleeping well;
he kicks and tears the quilt apart.
The bed's wet, the house leaks, there's nowhere dry.
The rain's tight as linen, won't stop.
It's been hard to sleep since the war began,
these long wet nights, and no sign of dawn.
I wonder how many houses we'd need to build
to shelter the world's shivering poor,
like a mountain weathering every storm.
Will such houses ever see the light of day?
If I could see them, I think I'd die happy,
even here in the cold, under this tattered thatch.
Translated from the classical Chinese by Kit Fan