The Cistern, PoemsTien Tran
Madison, WI 2011.
- The Palm in Valdosta
- The Cave
- The Cistern
- Snakes & Yearbook
- Recondite Harmony
- Decade of Exploration...
- Under a Big Hat
- Yellow Sonnet
- Sudden Epistolary Impulse
- Fast Slow Fast
- Early Century
- For My Imaginary Pet Chihuahua Who Died of a Heart Attack
- Triumph of the Minimalists
- Autumnal Cumuli
- Canadian Quarters
- Room Without Posters
- Power Comes to the Countryside
- Comedy in Juxtaposition
- New Year's in Baoloc
- Heart Like a Hanging Lute
- In Winter
- Part Sheer Bumpkinism
- Nothing to Write Home About
And like the ant and the spider
Returning from time to time to headquarters
Shall answer the question
Why do I like winter better than I like summer?
The Palm in Valdosta
Not disorder the brash clash, but elaborate
Calm, beautiful infinitude we studied
In the hot and mildew, building one
Condensed, industrious summer.
We zoomed into whole other worlds,
On key taps, in substance we came
To believe, to image with open eyes
Scenes before we opened to them.
Stark dazzling sun, dreaming weltered
In dark blazing sun; white, frenzied leaves;
By the end, incessant rainfall
While a galaxy-shaped storm cloud
Drew vulnerable seas beyond horizon.
Night it cleared we brought lawn chairs out
Under the slow-turning sky, prized space
Between still-wobbly pixels of light.
After heavy rain pine straw in the winding
Flowerbeds had coalesced
In sinuous waves
Beneath shiny stalks, petals,
And leaves honed sharp by the recalled sun.
The room was unlighted, but not dim;
In a substantial shaft of light the light
Specks were silently whirling, vanishing
Arabesques, whirling—the ghosts of words
All over the world, I said, War
And War's attendants are burning.
Our world, my friend said, is the veneer,
Broken, of forgotten worlds.
For long now nothing's been new,
For so long there's been nowhere for us
To turn, to step, without finding there,
In mud or in dust, the fitful paths layered.
We fear ambush. What's that doubtful, ashen
Debris when your tongue touches air?
Too stricken to protest, I looked down
Onto the carpet between us, dust-
Prints of boxes superimposed on
A faded riotous design, halos of water
Stains that bloomed years back
When the then-office-building flooded.
Rapid steps passed below on the drying walks,
A chair scraped the floor just overhead.
My friend looked long at me, as in reproach.
Some people are so intent
On being unhappy you think
They were born to be unhappy,
Eventually you think unhappiness
Must be a kind of happiness for them.
Because I loved him, I said to him:
Our parents and grandparents
Were their lives poor,
But what does that matter?
We must cease
To think we're above it all.
Let others go into the woods,
Look at the trees and return merry.
Look at yourself!
Your threadbare clothes,
Your matted hair,
Don't they demean you?
Even more when you don't care?
When I left he followed me
Down the road, talking in my ear,
And as I looked at him, his face
I was thinking nights I was little
I lay awake and his crying
Led my mind in the dark
Through the windy house
While outside thunder
Surged and rain strengthened.
Light on this gold trickles
Like water. What was it he said?
Now, isn't it beautiful just to look at!
What was it that trailed me
At the town's edge, in wind
The bitter melons, ripened, dangled
Like flames above the water—
Fetid black water where
Looking in we saw
Only clouds, leaf droves drifting
Like clouds. Slowly Vien
Lowered his cupped hands, came up
With two gleaming
Murk pools—the fish
Was gone that before had been
Broken, wouldn't move
Or eat, to Vien's biting grief.
In the house, Thu lived alone
With an aunt, her mother—
Turning I saw her figure in a window
Draw sharply away.
The lone Alsatian somewhere
Nearby started barking—in a pack
We leapt over the fence
And didn't look back.
It was months later,
Mid rain season, one evening
Vien appeared, sopping wet, holding in
In a jar a new prize, Siamese
Two, three times big,
Said he alone had gone back
Into the cistern.
Though we doubted, that the fish was
No fish was clear—its blue too
Dark to be blue, bullet-
Head fierce as stormy night,
With more than menace, shiny.
The cistern had fed,
Had changed it; it won now
Struck, then would flee,
Or were dragged down silently
In a boiling cloud.
Who knows how long
Vien's happiness endured,
But we saw how
Bright scales began to cloud,
Till in the end each stared
From the jar
Like a solid eye, the eyes
Themselves swollen, sluggish.
This time Vien flung it
Into a storm in the night.
Not long afterward, Ms. Hoa
Fell ill and died;
Thu married, went secretly
Away—abroad, some said.
When the trellis, grown
Heavy, or grown weak, crashed
Into that water, the hanging fire was
Put out at last, sank far below.
In the cistern the seasons grew
Impatient, a fissure must've
Opened, for the water
Began a long, eventful retreat—
Vines poked out, breaking
The surface sky.
The Alsatian alone remained
Unaccounted for, when I left—
Few of us stayed
Before that wreckage was brought
Fully to light.
Snakes & Yearbook
The funeral over, three days, the merchant's three-
Story house (red clay shingles, polished
Walls) breeds shadows—100-kilo
Burlap sacks like bloated sentinels.
A crowd fill the windy courtyard,
Turning at the door—to stare into the unlit
House and announce the omen of snakes
That wield and toss, paired bodies, tight inflection.
2. The humid season
Double, still composed, the giant red
Centipede coils in roiled clear liquor.
It's raining tonight, for friends, dear ones lost
In the compass; for strange, familiar dead;
Families fighting hopeless war
In the NEZ.
Fall rain falls steady on mute
Procession of ghosts; no hands can guide,
Or voice or light will lure them in.
On folded arms Lieutenant
Starts to dream again.
Wild morning on the mountain front
Soldiers in the mist and cold look homeward
Through ash plumes of night insects.
In sliding mud boots curve and flex—
And the writhing viper hisses
In the ground, surprised.
Between dawn-glazed hills, shots broke
Night's silence and darkness, reeling still
With the vapor of snakes. (Awake:
The cabin's fast brightening
Before the old flame goes out.)
Where there's snake, there's no sorrow.
On the barbed-wire fence one hung
Small as my finger, head mangled,
Green, gleaming as jade; I walked up
With a stick, and flicked the snake
Onto the ground, to see it yellow with dust.
A branch above rustled—
I jumped clear of the fence and ran.
Smoke rose from my neighbor's chimneys,
My enemies were coming (I heard
Their running) fast around the bend.
Where there's snake, there's no sorrow.
4. A storm
Each time to mend the alley new
Gravel spreads, their house sinks
A little; lighter, storms that drive
Flood through both side doors.
Exhausted, Vui leans onto her mother:
The women stand to watch
Muddy water creep up around them.
What year is this? How many
Since the ground began to rise?
Each flash and crack of lightning,
A corner of the house flares up
With cabinet, table and chairs,
Bags of grain slumped in the chairs
Before the crowded house shrine—
Flares up, water among faces
Taken long ago.
In the fever, they forget, or can't see
A watersnake that washes in,
Has gathered itself against the wall.
On its part the storm-raised
Snake's not watching them.
5. A Final Mural
Forget poverty, injustice and war.
The afternoons are his—no guests,
No sounds intrude, except nearby cicadas,
Indistinct voices, electricity of clouds
In the air.
(The clouds have begun to appear
Each afternoon on the horizon, dragging
Shadows over forests, dusty hills and towns.)
He stops, touching the tip of charcoal,
Its dry cool, to his lips,
The muralist, the sign painter—
Memorable word, refugee—
(Refugee: neighbors will find his clothes, worn
Pairs of Lao sandals, bright colors once, His books, notebooks, all, in a jumbled pile—
And mention his name and say he's flitted away—
Unknown summer a streak of light—
Flitted away, and this was his once,
Formerly, adequate house—iridescent,
Running coil binding his life.)
Spirit, refugee, he reenters outlined scales
In the dragon's breast exposing the yellowed paper
Of the wall. The archaic serpent comes round
With eyes shining, out searching cloud, wiry arms
In cloud let go, about to catch.
... Also to Meo, who crossed the floor that
Cool August night. Such urgency:
Her famished burning eyes, the new thinness of her body.
The place brightened with alarm.
Where are you going, Meo, irregular calico?
Your litter is blind, your shape still discernible
On the pallet, where you lay among them.
She went and we
(Who'd come to remember) couldn't follow.
Decade of Exploration...
End of the dive black gliding wings
Scattered to reveal a blue, blue sea: fish
More colorful than flowers, pastel anemone,
Coral like tangled blood
To grind, mold into statuettes, earrings.
On neighborhood housetops TV antennas
Claw at evening's approach.
They are the skeletons of fish.
Where is the sea?
Where is the sea?
Under a Big Hat
Five umbrellas at the end of the world—
Five blue umbrellas, blasted by sun debris.
Roar of the Pacific slamming its brakes.
Benneth Dhindsa, one travels so far, squanders so much
For the poverty of the ocean.
He sits sipping piña colada on a blue-and-green wave,
Caricature of the sea, mindless of my shrill entreaties.
Where the sun divides
The sea, the sea tosses onto waves heads, limbs, bodies...
They strive out of the water uncertain how to step.
When B. bends to answer the sun
Has made a huge, orangey mess of going down.
The night, though attenuated, mended us.
We drank some more, listened for as long as we could,
And fell separately to sleep.
Months from now the ocean's not what I think of.
I lost my glass of orange juice today,
This morning: took a sip, turned to Budgie,
Next thing I was outside again, then on the porch.
(It was on the bookcase, behind a photo print.)
Crouching, I saw at the corner of my eye
Plump lemons, out to ripen under the lamp,
Only the sun come peering in the open window.
(A kitchen glove beside the sink, a cab whizzing by.)
And like an ant suddenly indoors, I hurried
Place to place, amazed, or merely tireless.
I heard everywhere silence about to burst.
All morning I hunted for my glass of orange juice—
Long exercise, that coming back afterwards,
I drank with a burning, quenchable thirst.
Sudden Epistolary Impulse
Le Phuong, I heard you twisted your ankle
Hiking with the old gang last week; the pain's gone
I hope, though for a time I'll have to give up
Picturing you on the steep path
Behind your house, dress in clear sunlight,
Blue demi-garçon hair like spring's trophy
Over all the garden plants.
Last time you visited, I remarked that,
Eyes closed, one could almost imagine
Standing in the middle of the forest;
So leafy the apartment had grown
Under your mild, durable influence.
The hue remained for a time
On my rosy, rosy cheeks.
It's simple, always—you're too much
Of this world. Please come,
Whenever you feel like.
The air plant distills indifference—
We'll watch the red or white flowers
Bloom, talk about what infrequently
Assails us, to lessen our stutter.
Where does it come from, this rush, euphoria, elation?
South Gorge thunders down slamming the shale
Cliffs green-muddy waterflanks erupt foam
Suds froth spume spray. A porous sizzle
If you listen, infolding sibilance, gladly mocks...
Impossible, not to want to throw your voice, claim a part
Of this energy. I hurry from the bridge
Keeping the path, my body, straight while vision
Tips me down sideways; South Gorge
Courses mightily, leaps far over or easily
Subsumes a rock, past retreating columns
Of ice, vertiginous hemlock and pines,
Countless shades of green, shaggy grass I could
Grab if I fell... A million bells topple
In the gorge, labyrinths of water echoing.
It's gone, echoless the year, the winter...
Wash it off, the day remembered; I stand barefoot
Always, in one place shifting
Always while day erupts, swirls my arms,
Brings my hands all around me. My body
Is water, cool to the fleeting, ever-fleeting touch,
My hair of white watercoils drops to my feet.
I am Achelous, head above water, water carries me.
I am Achelous watch out below, it's raining!
I go outside to listen to South Gorge resonant,
Unmistakable in the absence of wind,
And night moving, look that way as if to see
Moonlight churn beneath the pines.
On the grass bank yesterday while peeing
My housemate discovered a family of graves.
Air laps the wetness of my body, thin
Libation for nearly forgotten names.
South Gorge everyday increases in noise:
The cool of dissolving mist; a canyon's absence you feel
Walking at your side; the way water
Fans out, streams of light flying out disappearing,
Endlessly renewed; moments of clarity...
Let's keep moving, as spring currents move,
Motion outstripping imagination.
But such water (such force!) doesn't move even
The shadow of a tree across the gorge.
Beside the path that winds slowly all the way
Down among ferns and trees the fall's
Length boils into presence.
The shadow trembles in place, here and
There and farther down the white breaking over
Rocks stays trembling in place—
You're faster, then, than water,
From Apollo's temple Hardhat emerges:
Shielding his eyes, he surveys the lines of cars,
Tiny suns in windshields captured, and not,
For their endless repetition, less blinding;
And takes a few steps as if he's seen something,
Some important work for which he's been summoned.
But there's nothing, that I can see, and he stops,
Remains for a long while motionless, stranded
On the hot concrete, before the campus woods
Where April mounts numerous shades of green.
In this fresh production he can't see me,
Steps forward, and back, again, reluctantly.
The rooftop portico, the shiny cars, the Doric
Colonnade, make such an eclectic scene
That I'm not surprised he hasn't found his way.
Impossible now to heroize this man,
Worker out of work; midday sunlight whitens
Tanned muscular arms like delicate debris.
A city's or a god's servant, he stands quite still—
So still, for so long, that I look down the street
For ambulances that might've arrived.
The same quiet rules above and all below.
And wary of brinkmanship, I choose defeat;
Go out and then come back to find him gone,
As I knew he'd be gone; even less than that,
He was never there: what token could I have?
By evening all the cars have cleared; oil stains
Dissolve in atmosphere that thickens and chills.
The woods nearby sends out ardent new voices,
Bird voices—where I lie down mild spring wind
Scatters distance-noisy chinoiseries.
Insistent the music inside my head, and very calm,
I asked myself: Is there poetry in this?
The boy next to me took off his glowing shirt,
More came spinning in, the door behind them, a whir.
Afterward I stood against a wall in the alley
Looking up for the ten thousandth night at the sky—
And looking, thought nothing—nothing then.
Lucid, dreadful, drove home near start of dawn.
Trucks with fresh cargoes were arriving at gas stations,
Grocery stores, or like their drivers bright-eyed,
Speeding through the city. It would've been easy,
But so many things like comets flew overhead, too fast
For their image, a comet's shedding tail, to adhere to them.
On schedule we arrived, found brooms to sweep
Cobweb from the ceiling and walls. We envied
First, most, those gone before us; then raged
That they had left behind such squalor—broken
Basket where maggots crawled milky white, news-
Paper, tissue paper everywhere—all kinds of garbage.
In one corner, the stripped pages of a photo album.
The smell, too, of waste, filth and past filth.
When something like shame found us, we filed out,
Stood in a line to watch the sun aim its rays.
We would see the onslaught of that low-lying sun.
It was April, a neighbor out on the road said
Was lucky, a good time to arrive, during the dry season.
Rain's different there, Mom said, you remember?
Going to Mass, you'd lose your umbrella to rain and wind;
Like Noah's flood, it poured for weeks on end.
At the back door her voice was like an incantation.
My brother, still eating, made to join us.
I couldn't remember the rain, or what was said
At meal or otherwise about the rain;
I couldn't tell them the poem I wanted to write—
Mild afternoon and warm, all of us sat together.
At school the oaks' veins swelled guiding night
Beyond a phosphorescent, early-deserted quad.
I fell asleep watching light through window blinds
Drape over every object the same, fluid pattern.
There was a trough, a vale quite near our barracks
All summer buzzed with flies the mulberries'
Oversweet fragrance spawned numerous and wild.
Vendors sold berries from bicycles on the road,
But knowing the fly swarms, we disdained their bargain.
Till X offered us a ripened bunch from his hands.
He led us begging through the neighborhood,
Said years back Pinatubo on the horizon erupted,
For endless weeks ash drained the camp of all color.
Too bad we weren't there, it was like... like snow!
X wiped his hands, stained purple, against a post,
Then produced from his pocket an indistinct picture.
That night some of us, awake, felt the ground move.
For long the guilt had left us, when a day arrived
So bright, so high, our metaphors fell beneath
The vividness of the trees. You're useful yet,
I said to myself—sell poems from painted booths,
Roadside and on highways, memorial poetry bouquets;
Or solicit patrons going door to door,
Or else take paper and instrument to the fields.
Which of these was ever, which going to be,
A viable option? I walked the campus taking the longest,
Remotest ways, dreaming as I walked the trail
Of things clear caught up, surrounding me like a globe.
But the mind would not be so beguiled, and I
Kept walking, sun wafer stubborn in my eyes.
X began a story, leaving it broken at nowhere.
If we sat still we could feel sweat beads trailing down
Our backs, our sides and our arms like tongues.
Night before, it had happened again, the alert, omen—
Among recollections of home, of a larger, vaguer past,
The one or two, quick, shifts, slight like something inside.
Then vast in the gut, terror of anticipation.
Whatever had revealed itself was content or resting now;
Earthquakes are common, people long in the camp said:
Don't forget, we're on the ocean on an island!
Mulberries drooped, oppressed to silence in sunlight,
The flies swallowed up in light's commotion.
We tested the earth and found it firm under our feet.
Returning from noon I came alone to the bridge,
Below me glinting tracks ran in another direction,
Headlong disappearing in a country of pines—
The spirit world that way beckoned, with pliant verdure,
Summer peace of having only to look and be pleased.
But on the other side in recesses patches of snow
Still glimmered; April beginning some green had broken out,
Pungent accents in winter's last, untidy variation.
For a time I stood against the high stone parapet
Thinking of the cold and warmth in sunlight mingled.
The wind rasped, a sound of feet in the leaves.
Against the huge tapestry of the campus woods,
I ended the long argument with myself.
The clouds arrived, we went to give Mary devotion,
In another zone, at a grove by one end of the camp.
Mary was nearly lost in heaps of flowers, in incense.
Afterward pilgrims went to a fast-flowing creek nearby—
Some waded in till water began to tug, some swam
To large shiny rocks, or to the other, reedy shore.
Jubilant the day waned, still wet we filed onto the road.
When we saw our barracks one of us suddenly ran ahead,
And with a wild halloo cut into the thicketed valley;
Mulberries, half rotten, strewed our unlikely path,
Odor in the hum of flies like soured wine.
Waiting at home, X grimaced when we emerged
Stooping on the road to remove our stained sandals.
The platform curved from the bar like a lens, level
with enormous contraptions of music and light.
The floor throbbed, the bass's rhythmic detonation.
A disco-ball threw galaxies against the wall on one side,
The stars retreating fast, too fast for lasting illusion.
With a bundle of glow sticks one beside me appeared,
Held out his illumined hands above the packed dance floor.
When one below whistled the green and yellow sticks
Like sparks scattered—instantly they took shape,
Around heads, around necks and arms, and took,
Too, to undulant motion. The light that night went out,
Unaware the sounds continued, uncrowded, making way
As to the quaking, sweltering deeps of an ocean.
Light on the trees flashes
A scene too minute for words.
A reader gathers a book
Close to him, he wants nothing
More than the illusion of words
Lifting off the page in calm,
New as travel makes us,
In the median cut grass, withered,
New, coasts like sea foam
Arriving at the feet of men
In numbered jumpsuits
Dragging outsize nylon sacks—
Slowly buoyant, unbelievable industry.
Sure of direction, the bus speeds;
The mind, freed to wander, chooses
Repose. Windows are lowered, voices
Cease as wind roars through—
Face cooled, I too close
My eyes, hold in unseeing brightness
When guest sleep comes, the image
Of a tree on the high bank
Before countless glistening others
Clasping to itself its immense shadow.
The reader becomes the book then,
In dream's real, forgotten countries?
Drawn out again and through
Hastily revised, abstracted where
No book or memory survives...
Wake up to find land, changed;
No more mirrored cliffs of green
Guiding us, pine's cloudy swath
Among particular ash, beech,
Sycamore, or jewel, rusted magnolia.
Between jutting masts of trees
Spanish moss like rotten, tattered
Sails catch darkness, beginning.
The town abandoned we enter
Slowing, slowing yet beneath
Huge, twisted tree limbs and sleeves
Of moss that in a breeze continually reach
Our windows. Live oaks spill
Famous shadow; the book held shut
On one finger again opens, but there
Refulgent evening through near trees
Flickers, the sun, a fitful, dying bulb.
We stop at the first lit road.
Book caws from a branch,
And darkness increased, on the ground
Wakeful travelers, on bent shoulders
Discover the way.
For My Imaginary Pet Chihuahua Who Died of a Heart Attack
That peeling house with those
Floor-to-ceiling windows, came fall
Again and again, we wandered
In a Technicolor show of leaves.
When Andy went, with all September
Recalling old commotion of feet
It was as though a hundred of us had left.
Things got ghastly Korolai cried and
Cried, said, Like a fucking movie.
Which stupefied me, but I
Tried best I could to soothe
That masculine, weatherlike girl.
You see where this is going.
The folks back home started calling
Hysterical and for no good reason
Said why not this, why not, But for god's sake.
We killed the phone, I started putting on
Bruckner like crazy, surround
Sound still new I couldn't stop.
It went so well you know, with all the leaves
And stuff I'd conduct empty chairs
And Korolai she'd just sit there
Full of sadness, a foreign beauty.
Till early morn I was up heating up
Storebrand can of tuna or jamming
Down the trash Korolai came home
Shivering, pulled out from her canvas bag
A Ouija board, Chopin on an obscure
Defunct label: lugubrious handful
Of polonaises that cheered her
The moment Feierlich, misterioso
Before we knew winter came real
Picturesque like winter in Soviet
Magazines we used for book covers:
The Ouija board brought no visitors
To the house, life bettering I filled out a bit.
But Korolai I should've known
Grew restless with harder, more regular snow,
At some point, discolored eyes brimming,
Unleashed devastation: Do you know,
I don't even know what's real anymore.
What's one to say? Careful,
I touched her she said mind
Counterfeits, something, counterfeits,
That too: it's what everyone knows.
We tried silence, turning off the heat,
Tossed out her easel but not anything
Helped, our mind could be anything
And we... were cold and bored.
Therefore gallant I went to bring it back,
The girl seeing at least fleetingly smiled.
Still winter, but nasty rain
And snow, Toto, come in rags
Tattered, just plain messy.
We'll have to be drastic
In the spring Korolai agrees,
Go back, go out west separate ways, something.
Last night I said finally,
What does it matter, in the nuthouse,
Whether you're happy or unhappy?
With a startled cry
She threw her paint tray at me.
The drama queen, I said bitterly.
Remember the blooming forest,
Bands of laughing squirrels, socialist
Poetry competitions, on a riverbank
Flowers so lush you could smear their paint.
I write for no one, Toto, it's true.
Triumph of the Minimalists
Now I take exception to the notion that J. Samoth
(Who judging by this disc, is still going strong)
Writes unimportant music. True, you won't find here
The fragmentation and angular juxtaposition of
Orchestral textures, the manipulation of irregular rhyth-
Mic/motivic cells, the casual tonal anarchy that've
Been for some time like something approaching
A recognizable, for better or worse contemporary idiom;
But the intelligent Samoth isn't reactionary,
Nor more devastating still, simply old-fashioned.
Take the dramatic opening, for example: how stylish,
Competent and truly inspired; the thing unfolds
Joyously with B. Johnson and the rising Jonesboro
Philharmonic. If the appearance of the enigmatic
Main theme on trumpets amidst swirling strings does not move
The faults lies, surely, with a catatonic listener.
To describe can only be tedious;
Suffice it to say that it coasts
From strength ever to more strength,
Inner movements star-dense with ideas
To a finale impressive in scale, logic, and decibels.
There's nothing out there quite like this, or more
Enjoyable, whose full expression demands minimum
More than benign attention and clean ears.
The polemical Samoth, incidentally, hasn't mellowed
One bit; though one might well wonder
If liner notes aren't for the already-converted.
Better is Minoa's crystal, spatially well-organized sound,
Justifying private listening as a complete musical experience.
As it happens, the composer was in town
For the work's exciting premier this past February
In our snow-braced St. Mary packed with devout and
Hardy listeners. I met with him afterwards in the lobby,
And though tired he was gracious, and parried my praises.
If only you weren't retiring! he said. Like his symphonies,
The person Samoth evinces complete, unassailable integrity.
(A solid three oboes, then, and a request
For more from these same forces.)
I said listen, we're on
The same side we're batting
For the same team here.
The way some people live,
Love flowers at the card table.
Makes me horribly sad
I can bash your skull in.
The mother vole discerning
The foxes' nearing
Footsteps carries her litter underground;
The bees triumph routing
The lean black bear;
Mindful of harsh winter nights to come the owl
Clear days see to infinity.
Somewhere our guide pauses
In a posture of attentive
Listening divested of all music.
Coming to wash myself
Presently I found the pool's edge
Too responsive to disturb.
We're unfeeling, callous,
Cut off and bumping into walls.
The lake darkens, trees bow.
Patrons swarm the lily of the fountain.
Your party's got lost in the corridor.
You come back to the apartment studio
Thinking to change your mind about what?
Memories dead pixel in intense sunlight.
Bowl of salad, the end of the block.
A plummeting cry had interrupted the scene—
Our coworkers rushed in, launched us outside
Where on the lawn the goose lay dead.
One touched it with her shoe-tip.
It lay head twisted, smiling to one side.
While we wondered, our boss,
Competent woman, took it in;
Asked us sideways why
We were curious, the tables weren't all
In place, the guests being near.
We moved again among the dim-lit tables—
Laughter, silverware, drunk-
Loud voices, the wedding seemed one we'd attended
The yew bank, the hills
Went out, the party floated out into space.
We dreamed of home during the cleanup,
Of a weekend morning walking along a pond
In the park, or in the museum's wide polished halls.
Geese will thrill us,
No wedding will stir us
In upcoming social experiments.
The road at noon in a dust-storm—
His whole life he's known mimosa.
The wind, let me down, he said, Mother!
Leaves were clamped shut like eyes,
The boy ran along jagged moving shadow,
Mimosas before him on the ground.
It's a word's seduction foregrounds
One day meanings are shot, instant brainstorm.
What's left glimmering, there in shadow—
That long-ago, sun-gilded mimosa?
Beyond golden flecks crossing the eyes
You want the clear face of your mother.
He went to see his sleeping mother.
He stood outside watching the ground,
Where shining water pools lured his eyes.
She must've stayed up in last night's storm
That, foretold, gently shocked, like the mimosa
Shivering in his small, bent shadow.
He worked outside till the shadow
On the mown lawn recalled him to his mother.
She spoke softly when he came in, Mimosa
He heard as he knelt on the ground.
The glimmer of trees falling in a storm
Fell across the tender gaze of her eyes.
What's misery when there are no other eyes
And by yourself you can be a shadow?
All that you know and can't know storm
The twilight of a room at the sound, Mother.
In the tropics entire forest grounds
Are overgrown, destroyed by mimosa.
Imagine walking in that jungle mimosa,
Darkness everywhere pooled like eyes,
Your feet noisy on the ground.
When another day was finally shadowed,
His sisters watched him leave their mother—
Hurry to follow the storm.
The curving road has no mimosa, only shadows
In passing that eye him, figures mothered
On the shiny ground at the edge of a storm.
Room Without Posters
The road close to noon wavered before us—
Dwindled quickly, was gone in the hills' shade.
July, cicadas' season—we filed beneath
Stark walls of droning and listless trees.
Asaki brought a cicada wrapped in a young
Mulberry leaf—frail sheath for perfect-
Iron wings, that to hold it I spun on my feet.
It flew, swerved right, but the farm tipped.
At Ingolstadt I stopped to listen to the forest's
Broken edge falter, haphazardly again start—
Antiphonal voices in descent and ascent—
I calmed myself at night thinking of home.
Huddled together, the trees turn into October—
Old men and old women, their own
Fondness for secrets corrodes their knowledge.
The foxy gild flakes and falls from them.
One's appetite grows suggestible here—
Teach me to hate, in white winter, the abstract and
Sly negative, I cannot touch that circle again.
A fire of dead leaves bursts on the grill.
Power Comes to the Countryside
They feel the wind on their puissant fingertips, but where they point
The wind's already gone; they run
In lengthening ellipses, up and down the street.
Women, your faces are yellow as kerosene lamps, tonight
Your gaunt shadows streak...
(Fathers, your smoke obscures doorways.)
Call down the banner flouting curfew darkness.
Moths contrive ways down an alley in rungs of light.
Sometimes she remembers the censer's gush on the hearse-
Wide dirt road whiter than early fog, Aves alone before dawn;
And as honeysuckle scent appears along the hibiscus hedge, or rain's
Wetness during an hour closely insists, clods thump
The outside door abandoning speed.
They make it where wind fails integers of space.
(The insect flame, hurtled so far, ignites empty streets,
Sinks wide and escapes.)
To weigh beyond walls assembled, jointed, at a touch—
The suicide's flowers cannot vaunt over this.
Comedy in Juxtaposition
When the rooster crows, it'll be incredibly early.
A lamp tears a curtain running far into the night,
The young secretary's face advances near
The empty woods. Every place folds into doors,
And darkness caught many on their feet.
We'll build the pylon slowly,
Walk the plaza before returning to each note.
We'll know how far the sound carries...
We need an assessment of real abilities.
The committee doesn't know how this convention will end,
If Love will gore and transfigure in the same instant,
Nothing opaque as the river where neighbors drown.
The dog floating by on debris is someone else's dog.
“Either your fault or mine, but the sky ordains it.”
Comrade N. isn't going to admit that Marxism was only
A boat to cross the river, but it having grown late,
Though in the past often mistaken, he must see through
To his own failure, he must realize that the struggle continues,
Has in pockets, whether or not he complies again.
Between resting and staying...
Between the purely formal and the
Purely mimetic, betrayal traffics fluently.
We won't trade back our poverty.
New Year's in Baoloc
Later the cemetery was dug up,
The bones deposited in stacked clay jars.
We arrived when overconfident stars
Behind the mountains had just peered out.
Thanh lowered me onto mossy cement steps.
High above us, invisible bamboo clumps
Poured out night, ceaseless, mournful cry.
A starling called piercingly one, twice:
Wild articulate sound, almost human.
I felt the hair on my neck, the tiny bumps,
And bent down shuddering, hugging my legs.
There's a girl farther down this way I love.
I looked up, surprised to hear “love.”
He stood with back hunched, his face hidden
Where light still caught the grass's edge.
But innocent, she didn't notice him.
Did earth each year grow so much darker?
Hands in his pockets, talking about the girl,
My cousin walked onto the windy road;
And as I listened, his voice had grown dim,
When from above came passing sounds like words.
I jumped, and would've cried out at the thrill,
But saw him turning, and braced to sit still,
Till wind and night's cold engulfed me
And at length, cold, I wasn't afraid.
Footsteps recently gone then ghosted back,
And Thanh, who talked eagerly at my side,
Said soldiers who'd fought there and died,
Their unhappy ghosts still wandered Baoloc,
Trapped in the geographic bottleneck.
Lovers out on clear evenings would meet
Court guards in garish tunics, younger men
With rifles and muddy helmets in hand.
He got up, looked around listening,
Said he didn't realize, it was really late.
In another second he warned:
Never come here by yourself, you hear?
Now let's get on, you're cold and scared.
I jumped, catching his neck, and throwing him,
For the first time that night turned
To follow wide, mossy steps up, where
Above a cloud of noisy-teeming leaves
The memorial, one kerosene lamp to grieve
All those bones, always or just now lit,
Gleamed amid bright, increasing stars.
Silently, fast, Thanh had started running.
The charnel house, hazy yellow light,
Tottered in retreat as I swung side to side
Trying, while sandals drummed on the taut earth,
To look back: darkness, nothing.
Then where we sat, something. I hung on,
But I was slipping; each time my head
Swung round I saw the standing shadow in red,
Imperial blood-red; and at that distance,
The clear gap between his feet and the ground.
Heart Like a Hanging Lute
We watched the bending smoke, Our Lady
Of Guadalupe lit within by a dying wick—
Candlelight in unexpected mirrored surfaces,
In the window peering sideways at us,
And my roommate's guitar on the couch.
Remember, his sister said, we'd camp out
In the empty, rain-battered house?
With lowered eyes, Dee was faintly smiling.
The abandoned house I, in turn, remembered:
Everyone gone, blankets and sheets
Held the dark in darker boxes, mazy alcoves;
Our electric fans I gathered to make a storm.
There, again! Dee said, and this time
We saw the reddish light flashing outside.
Waited for the arriving, till-now-unheard report.
At a window I saw the blue-black
Thunderheads driving furiously toward us,
And unthinking or morose, picked up the guitar.
Jess spoke quickly, stopped in the cry
From the magnolia of a storm-sheltering bird.
The blast struck near us, the apartment burned
Molten white—dark—where the shadowy
Brother, sister stood, wavering to move.
Dee's guitar hummed jarring my hands.
Moon crashed against the dock—recurrent, wooden
Sound of a distant buoy, just now vanished.
On the other shore, smeared against darkness, rainbow-
Colored lights climbed invisible smokestacks.
How remote we were, and how late,
The wing-flecks up there told us; I didn't think
You'd come down so soon, Lunch Box said.
The clock was striking ten when we returned to the house—
I caught the red reflected off the door, and later
Dreamed our faces in Damascene water.
Festival day, at home. May,
Month of Mary, Mother of God.
The procession wound up a hill,
Round our church, into the hymn
Of the amassed, staggered choir.
The music and smoke and redolence
Of flowers and incense... Mary
Would turn to look back—
My neighbors pressed against my sides—
The while the priest and acolytes,
Chancel and icons went up
In votive candlelight; I knelt
Or sat, watching my hands.
The choir, suppliant, sweetly sank,
Now launched high hosannas.
Pale evening when we got out.
A neighbor walked shakily in front,
My friends caught me from behind
With a joke—the crowd in a high,
Cool wind unbalanced, giddy.
It was a while getting to our cars,
While I was full of cunning,
Who'd tasted the mutual bread
And drunk the exotic wine.
Sleep and all dream woke
To ambush morning, chirping clear,
Clamoring as glass; we shambled to
The car, a gleaming-cold, dewy night.
A postcard, the town opened its scenic lanes
For us, beneath tapering trees, to the Teaching
Museum, railroad, thruway. Column
Goodbye that took you in.
For me, sleep did not return; I got up
On dark scenery when the rooms fell,
Watching a coffee cup.
Rock bottom had become clear ice,
White light sealed windows I held, and
The sun stumbled over the house,
Antagonist, injured one-eye.
Part Sheer Bumpkinism
Tipsy, a friend's friend was telling me
His story, appropriate to memory
Of a neighbor of mine, weekend
Hunting with a marble slingshot.
That afternoon he ran into people:
Said he foresaw their cheeriness, local
Tourists, who, the way crowded, easily,
But resolutely, were turning back.
And as lonely before, the bike trail began
To contradict (in the woods lying on moss-
Rock, blood trickling from your ears, staring at
The sky, you know you've just seen cars).
He was caught, talking, smiling like
Fresh damp pine straw, by a marble shot
From the burnished mahogany slingshot
In a powdery stretch of the woods.
Violence accumulated in sparse snow
And twitchy red, and green, traffic lights.
The moment he turned a patch of snow
Fell behind the muddy cliff,
A giant owl he couldn't have heard.
I climbed down ledge and fire-escape
Going to friends, former neighbors
Of mine, to put the jaunty man to sleep.
Nothing to Write Home About
I found myself smoking, that long interval I lived
Near a railway and caught the train mid-puff
(The cable vans were more frequent, staying the world
On misty gears).
So things seemed to persist, the flashy year
The glowing tip of one cigarette.
Dogs picked away a neighbor's game hen brood,
The more strays came the quieter it got.
I moved somewhere cold, worked in a warehouse
Welding garden equipment. At night, spillover wind,
No sound; in lamps' light old songs insinuated.
The cousin who came to the house after '85
Slept on the floor with his clothes under one arm.
Tell her it was the same last winter,
My neighbor's wife. (Over the parking lot,
Where light ends the fat snow begins.)
One walks onto snow wearing new fleece,
Clobbers a storm into featherfall.