Poet and fabulist Alex Grant has created a history of the heart and mind in
The Poems of Wing Lei. A monk-poet born in the JiangXi province of China in the mid-9th century, Wing Lei was a contemporary of the Chinese poetry masters Li Po, Tu Fu, and Wang
Wei. His early life was spent in relative anonymity as a mid-level government official in the province, though it is known that he wrote poetry during this time. When his beloved wife Nagini was drowned in a flood during the spring of her thirty-fifth year, Wing Lei gave up his government position and took vows at a nearby monastery. He spent seven years there before embarking on his travels, writing poetry and living on the charity of those he met in the Chinese Countryside. He is believed to have died in his sixty-first year. These poems are the story of his life and travels.
No one alive writes like Alex Grant. “Realize this may all be a dream,” the first poem in this priceless collection tells us.
The Poems of Wing Lei dreams a world the reader is grateful to enter. Like the calligrapher he describes, Grant makes poems with “a musician’s touch picking out each lingering note.”
The Poems of Wing Lei is a book of beauty and wisdom. I feel fortunate to live in the same world it does.
— Al Maginnes
From the book —
"The world is an endless wedding,
the guests dressing and undressing in the dark"
— Wing Lei
The Inn-Keeper's Wife
Seven winters widowed, she shuffles through the market
in her black kimono — her eyes never leaving the ground.
Once, she was a story-teller, served plum wine and tea-eggs
to merchants from Nanjing — laughed at their playful jokes,
listened patiently to the stories of their wives and families,
led them to their straw beds when the wine or their thirsts
were dry — now the inn is quiet and shuttered, and she pours
the wine into a single cup and offers prayers to her husband.
I bow as she passes — she stops for a moment, looks at me
sideways. Without speaking, we exchange our condolences.
The Mad Woman
Her nails curl into her palms as she hunches up and offers to tell
my fortune — but first, she must tell me her story, how once, men
desired her, how they talked of her beauty in villages days distant,
how a prince once offered his kingdom for one
night in her bed
how her suitors would stumble through rose-thorns and briars to
knock on her window — make love-songs no-one else ever heard.
The sky is on fire — thin clouds lit from below,
blotches of indigo
between — she says this is her doing — that she controls the clouds,
the rain and the sun, that she knows how I grieve for Nagini, that
a hundred years from now, none of this will matter, and someone
else will sit on this rock and look at the sky and dream of the dead.