fire sparks against dark water/sky background
Photo by Nathan Lindahl on Unsplash

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Directory of Destinies: A Parallel Poem by Yuan Changming

—Believe it or not, the ancient Chinese 5-Agent Principle accounts for us all.

1 Metal (born in a year ending in 0 or 1)

–helps water but hinders wood; helped by earth but hindered by fire

he used to be totally dull-colored

because he came from the earth’s inside

now he has become a super-conductor

for cold words, hot pictures and light itself

all being transmitted through his throat

2 Water (born in a year ending in 2 or 3)

–-helps wood but hinders fire; helped by metal but hindered by earth

with her transparent tenderness

coded with colorless violence

she is always ready to support

or sink the powerful boat

sailing south

3 Wood (born in a year ending 4 or 5)

–helps fire but hinders earth; helped by water but hindered by metal

rings in rings have been opened or broken

like echoes that roll from home to home

each containing fragments of green

trying to tell their tales

from the forest’s depths

4 Fire (born in a year ending 6 or 7)

–helps earth but hinders metal; helped by wood but hindered by water

your soft power bursting from your ribcage

as enthusiastic as a phoenix is supposed to be

when you fly your lipless kisses

you reach out your hearts

until they are all broken

5 Earth (born in a year ending in 8 or 9)

–helps metal but hinders water; helped by fire but hindered by wood

I think not; therefore, I am not

what I am, but I have a color

the skin my heart wears inside out

tattooed intricately

with footprints of history


Yuan Changming hails with Allen Yuan from Credits include Pushcart nominations and publications in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17) & Best New Poems Online, among others. In 2021, Yuan served on the jury for Canada's 44th National Magazine Awards (poetry category).

Author's note

"Directory of Destinies" is an attempt of mine to introduce cultural Chineseness to non-Chinese readers, which actually anticipate my more recent and popular invention of what I now call "bilinguaculatural poetry".