In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Manoa 13.2 (2001) 153-155

[Access article in PDF]

Three Poems

Arthur Sze

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 PeƱasco 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]

The Ligature

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.



Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 153-155
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.