Nursery rhymes free verses

1.
Crow at the top of the tall locust tree,
let’s have some straight talk for once.
How many bright, round things have you stolen today?
A speckled warbler egg,
an ugly pink nestling,
the big brown eye of a newborn fawn,
the moon in the water.
With a snip and a snap I slurped them up.
Delicious!
You did all this mischief by yourself?
Heavens, no!
Steal all you want, my mother always said,
but be sure to share.

2.
A fire in the valley: the sirens wail.
The fire trucks race through the water gap,
blowing their horns.
The sound travels up the hollow
two miles to the top of the mountain
where the coyotes live.
The pups have just woken up
and think they hear their parents
bringing breakfast.
They yip and howl at the sirens,
bark back at the horns.
Their mother comes at a trot,
dangling her long, red tongue.

*

The remaining verses are my re-translations of Chinese nursery rhymes included in the bilingual Folksongs and Children-Songs from Peiping, collected and translated by Kinchen Johnson, Orient Cultural Services, Taipei, 1971.

3.
Day after day, the old cow is sad
and says nothing at all.
Every night, a cold wind curls around her shed.
What will become of her hide?
They’ll stretch it over a drum and beat it with sticks.
What will become of her bones?
The big ones will be whittled into hairpins,
the small ones will be carved into dice.
Her tired old muscles
will flavor the soup.

4a.
Lord Moon is bright,
so bright!
Open the back gate and hang out the laundry.
Washing makes white,
starching makes whiter,
but the fun-loving maid makes
a lousy wife.
A long pipe dangles from her mouth
and she holds eight cards in her hand.
If she wins, she buys flowers to pin to her dress.
If she loses, she flies into a rage.

4b.
Lord Moon is bright,
so bright!
Open the back gate and hang out the laundry.
Washing makes white,
starching makes whiter,
but a man too free with his money makes
a lousy husband.
He loves to drink liquor and he loves to play cards.
He builds a big pile of rolls and cakes
and brown flour biscuits – two silver dollars apiece.
But right next door, old Jiang’s third son
knows how to live well.
His boots are green,
his hat is green,
his robe is green
and he wears a green jacket.

5.
Old thistle-seed,
old thistle-seed:
long white hair from top to bottom.
Along comes the wind and blows it sky-high.
It lands feet-first, with nary a scratch.

6.
Get that bald man!
Put a vise around his bald head.
Squeeze out enough oil
to fry up some tofu.
As the tofu turns brown,
the man takes a trip to the underworld.
He sees the King of Hades
wearing an iron crown.
The bald man is so scared,
he gets a fever and burns up.

7.
The little dog clears the irrigation ditch
in a single bound.
He doesn’t have a hair on his body
and he was born without a tail.
You can walk right up to him –
he never barks.
He spends his time running back and forth
among the cattails.

8.
A mule for going up the hills,
a horse for going down,
a donkey anywhere it’s flat.
Who needs a whip?

9.
Mr. Pot-belly, one day,
wanted to start a pawn shop, they say.
He didn’t have any capital that day,
so he took his pants to
another pawn shop, they say.

10.
I know a little girl who isn’t afraid of anything.
She always calls the flower peddler “uncle.”
“Hey uncle, hey uncle!
How about giving me
a red pomegranate flower?
I’ll pin it to my chest,
I’ll pin it to my sleeve,
and everywhere I go
the ground will be covered
with red petals!”

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