Drinking Alone on a November Night
after Li Bai’s “Drinking Alone on a Spring Day”
The wind is still. The bottle is empty. From its perpetual
gyre in the north, the Little Dipper winks as I stumble
through the accumulated snow. A rabbit darts
across the yard, the clouds conceal the moon. All of nature
taunts me with its mysteries. Just beyond my reach,
some bird watches me from a branch, its onyx eyes
catching starlight. I, the drunk, have no options
but to accept the loneliness. I need only to turn around
to return home, to see myself in the mirror, so young
and so hollow. Smelling of snow, full of wine.
Wandering in my thoughts, I let you become immortal,
entitled to the radiance and distance eternal life
bestows. A star, a locus of light, could explode now
and we wouldn’t know for thousands of years.
I could drive to you, half-drunk. Close the in-between
like an embrace, and tell you that I don’t understand
the endless sky nor the cycles of snow. That I love
you, and in loving you, the future spreads before me
like spilled wine, the color of your tongue. It’s just that
the end is so elusive, like a cardinal perched just beyond reach.
Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon
after Li Bai’s poem of the same name
These days, I find companions in odd places: a postcard
from a friend in Kyoto; a lighter I’ve held onto
since high school; a bottle of wine I can’t afford. Alone,
these days, I tell time by constellations. That Cassiopeia,
now tending west rather than east, signals something
about winter. Raising my cup, I spill wine
onto my white sheets. I don’t clean it. I read an essay
about poets and the moon, what their kinship suggests:
to me, the man across town—doing dishes, making the bed,
thinking of me. Drinking a glass of wine. And I wonder
why, as I sit striking the lighter again and again, I’m looking
out the window; thinking of getting drunk under the same sky
as the man across town. Wondering why his memory alone
can’t sustain me; why the stars, shadowboxing with the moon.
Surely as spilled wine stains white sheets, the moon bleeds
through my curtains. I’m not skilled at thinking of the world
in terms of the celestial, cosmological. Meaning:
I don’t know what the moon wants from me, or what the moon
can give me. See, these trembling hands cannot hold
a glass of wine without incident. So, if wine is called
enlightenment or wisdom, I sip of the wrong spirit. If the moon
can cradle me in its convex, I seek the wrong kind
of sustenance. Three glasses, and I’d like to believe
I’ve learned something of the Way: that the stars have trails
they cling to, that I am a spoke on a wheel that keeps turning.
But really, I think of the street covered in slush leading
to the other side of town, where I can believe in something
more concrete than the moon; a man who sighs to see me.
It’s November now, and the remaining grass sets its sights
on any sliver of sun that manages to pierce the clouds.
Nightfall comes earlier: I face it with wine. The postcard
from Kyoto pictures a blue hydrangea—my favorite flower—
against the backdrop of a temple. I think of my friend,
of the thousands of miles between us. I think of the moon
winnowing this late autumn night into motion. Cassiopeia
winds through the sky, always knowing the North Star. I finish
my wine, pour the rest of the bottle down the bathroom sink.
I reject these notions of distance: the deepest expression
of my joy must be the man across town sleeping soundly
beside me, his breath steady through this still, snowy night.
Heath Joseph Wooten (he/him) is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Von Aegir Literary, and he drinks way too much Diet Pepsi. You can find his work in or forthcoming from perhappened, Lammergier, Eunoia Review, and others.