Drinking Alone on a November Night

after Li Bai’s “Drinking Alone on a Spring Day”

 

I. 

 

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.


 

II. 

 

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

 

I. 

 

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.


 

II. 

 

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.


 

III. 

 

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.