Ronald Baytan

(Manila / Philippines)

The Cut Sleeve - Poem by Ronald Baytan

Dong Xian had dreamt
Of this day many, many times:
When he stepped
Out of the emperor’s chamber,
He headed for his beloved Ai’s grave,
Holding a sword firmly in his hand
To protect himself.

Without any heir, without any doubt,
Ai had declared Dong Xian

At his deathbed, Ai dismissed
Dong Xian’s protest:
“How can a man rule the earth
Without Heaven’s decree?”

Ai reached for Dong Xian’s palm,
And handed him
The imperial seal. He said: “A force
Equal to the Heavens
Has mandated your reign.”

And Ai took his last glimpse
Of human love.

But the enemies
Of the Hans never slept.

A few hours from now,
Dong Xian knew Wang Mang
And his armies would seize
The palace. And kill him.

No. Dong Xian chose to spend
The morning watching
From Ai’s tomb
Cherry blossoms kissing
The earth’s many lips.

He soon summoned the sword
From its sleep, and the loyal subject
Honored its duty: It painted
The ground red.

Before Dong Xian could shut
His ears to the world’s wailing,
Memory took him back
To the red chamber
One misty morning:

He was dreaming
Across the sleeve
Of Ai’s tunic, blooming
With golden chrysanthemums.
And careful
Not to wake him, Ai the Emperor
Cut off his sleeve.

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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