Ballad Of The Army Carts
Wagons rattling and banging,
horses neighing and snorting,
conscripts marching, each with bow and arrows at his hip,
fathers and mothers, wives and children, running to see them off–
so much dust kicked up you can’t see Xian-yang Bridge!
And the families pulling at their clothes, stamping feet in anger,
blocking the way and weeping–
ah, the sound of their wailing rises straight up to assault heaven.
And a passerby asks, ‘What’s going on?’
The soldier says simply, ‘This happens all the time.
From age fifteen some are sent to guard the north,
and even at forty some work the army farms in the west.
When they leave home, the village headman has to wrap their turbans for them;
when they come back, white-haired, they’re still guarding the frontier.
The frontier posts run with blood enough to fill an ocean,
and the war-loving Emperor’s dreams of conquest have still not ended.
Hasn’t he heard that in Han, east of the mountains,
there are two hundred prefectures, thousands and thousands of villages,
growing nothing but thorns?
And even where there is a sturdy wife to handle hoe and plough,
the poor crops grow raggedly in haphazard fields.
It’s even worse for the men of Qin; they’re such good fighters
they’re driven from battle to battle like dogs or chickens.
Even though you were kind enough to ask, good sir,
perhaps I shouldn’t express such resentment.
But take this winter, for instance,
they still haven’t demobilized the troops of Guanxi,
and the tax collectors are pressing everyone for land-fees–
land-fees!–from where is that money supposed to come?
Truly, it is an evil thing to bear a son these days,
it is much better to have daughters;
at least you can marry a daughter to the neighbor,
but a son is born only to die, his body lost in the wild grass.
Has my lord seen the shores of the Kokonor?
The white bones lie there in drifts, uncollected.
New ghosts complain and old ghosts weep,
under the lowering sky their voices cry out in the rain.’