Manoa 13.2 (2001) 153-155
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In the Living Room
I turn this green hexagonal tile with
a blue dragonfly, but what is it I am turning?
The vertical scroll on the far wall
has seven characters that roughly translate:
"The sun's reflection on the Yangtze River
is ten thousand miles of gold." A Japanese
calligrapher drew these Chinese characters
in the 1890s, but who knows the circumstances
of the event? I graze the crackled paper,
recognize a moment ready to scrape into flame;
gaze at ceiling beams from Las Trampas,
at Peñasco floorboards softened with lye.
Along the wall on a pedestal, a gold-leafed
male and female figure join in sexual embrace.
Hours earlier, my hands held your hips,
your breasts brushed my chest. I close
my eyes, feel how in the circumference
of a circle the beginning and end have no end.
When you shut your eyes, you find a string
of mackerel tied by the tail over and across
the sloping street; pour water into raki
and watch it cloud into "lion's milk"; [End Page 153]
nibble smoked aubergine with yogurt;
point to red mullet on a platter of fish.
You catch the sound of dripping water,
squat to be near the upside down Medusa
head at the column base in a cistern:
a drop of water splashes your forehead.
You see carved acanthus leaves, then
eighteen women in singular postures
of mourning along the sides of a sarcophagus;
hear a noise, turn to bright lights:
eighteen men and women in security shirts
swarm through the covered street,
search for heroin. You smell saffron,
cardamom, frankincense, cinnamon, ginger,
galingale, thyme, star anise, fennel;
open your eyes to leeches in a jar
half-filled with water--green powdered henna
in a box alongside white mulberries.
The bells around the necks of goats clink;
you run your fingers along the fragments
of terra-cotta pots built into the stone
walls of houses; blink at the beggar
whose foot has swollen to the size
of his head; stagger up to Athena's temple
by moonlight; sit on a broken column,
gaze out across the gulf to Lesbos,
where lights glimmer along the curve
of a bay. In bright moonlight, the water
is riffled, argentine, into wide patches.
You ache at how passion is a tangle
of silk in your hands, shut your eyes,
unstring the silk in one continuous thread. [End Page 154]
Some days are zigzags through a mine field;
yesterday I watched a green bug on a screen door
lay twenty-eight ocher eggs and crawl on.
In a lab, someone analyzes bee pollen for TNT;
white yarrow blooms outside the kitchen.
Someday bees might enable one to locate land mines,
but in the meantime I need a visual reminder--
as the teeth of an alfalfa cutter now hang
as trim on my studio wall--that once is tied
to here. A man from Polacca said he couldn't
carve the cumulus-cloud or thunderbolt kachina,
but he could carve the two-prong kachina;
here it is: boxed, about to travel to Turkey
as a gift to a translator, marked HANDLE WITH CARE.
I would hate to--sunset, moonrise--wake one day,
start, "I have taken too little care of this."
Cool air slides through the screen door;
I gaze up at the bundle of yarrow tied over our bed.
Arthur Sze is the author of The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese (Copper Canyon Press, 2001), The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998), and other books of poetry and translation.