In a concussion,
the mind severs the pain:
you don’t remember flying off a motorcycle,
and landing face first
in a cholla.
But a woman stabbed in her apartment,
by a prowler searching for
money and drugs,
will never forget her startled shriek
die in her throat,
blood soaking into the floor.
The quotidian violence of the world
is like a full moon rising over the Ortiz mountains;
its pull is everywhere.
But let me live a life of violent surprise
and startled joy. I want to
thrust a purple iris into your hand,
give you a sudden embrace.
I want to live as Wang Hsi-chih lived
writing characters in gold ink on black silk—
not to frame on a wall,
but to live the splendor now.
Deprived of sleep, she hallucinated
and, believing she had sold the genetic
research on carp, signed a confession.
Picking psilocybin mushrooms in the mountains
of Veracruz, I hear tin cowbells
in the slow rain, see men wasted on pulque
sitting under palm trees. Is it
so hard to see things as they truly are:
a route marked in red ink on a map,
the shadows of apricot leaves thrown
in wind and sun on a wall? It is
easy to imagine a desert full of agaves
and golden barrel cactus, red earth, a red sun.
But to truly live one must see things
as they are, as they might become:
a wrench is not a fingerprint
on a stolen car, nor baling wire
the undertow of the ocean. I may hallucinate,
but see the men in drenched clothes
as men who saw and saw and refuse to see.
Think of being a judge or architect
or trombonist, and do not worry whether
thinking so makes it so. I overhear
two men talking in another room;
I cannot transcribe the conversation
word for word, but know if they are
vexed or depressed, joyful or nostalgic.
An elm leaf floats on a pond.
Look, a child wants to be a cardiologist
then a cartographer, but wanting so
does not make it so. It is not
a question of copying out the Heart Sutra
in your own blood on an alabaster wall.
It is not a question of grief or joy.
But as a fetus grows and grows,
as the autumn moon ripens the grapes,
greed and cruelty and hunger for power
ripen us, enable us to grieve, act,
laugh, shriek, see, see it all as
the water on which the elm leaf floats.
Write out the memories of your life
in red-gold disappearing ink, so that it all
dies, no lives. Each word you speak
dies, no lives. Is it all
at once in the mind? I once stepped
on a sea urchin, used a needle to dig out
the purple spines; blood soaked my hands.
But one spine was left, and I carried
it a thousand miles. I saw then
the olive leaves die on the branch,
saw dogs tear flesh off a sheep’s corpse.
To live at all is to grieve;
but, once, to have it all at once
is to see a shooting star: shooting star
“Shooting Star” from Arthur Sze’s The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (1998), appears by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)