I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred —
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It's like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
I go down to the edge of the sea.
Startled from snow-day slumber by a neighbor’ s mutt,
it banged its buzzard’ s head then couldn’ t solve
the problem of the white pine’ s limbs
with wings nearly too broad for a planned descent.
Somewhere an awkward angel knows
whether it was dead before it hit the ground.
Any sinner could tell it was dead after —
eyes unseen beneath bare and wrinkled lids,
feet drawn up almost as high as hands.
I loved to watch thistle and millet
disappear beneath it in the yard.
As snow covers feathers that will still be
Put an ear to the light at fall
of dark and you will hear
nothing. This pale luminescence
that drifts in upon them
makes a blue bole of their caves,
a scare of their scything
tails. They tell
in the bubbling dark of images
that come in upon them
when light spreads like an oil slick
and sea fans
that once were their refuge
Now there is no dark
dark enough for their silver tails,
scatter of color
(like coins massively
piling in the lap of a miser)
A sound of far-off thunder from instruments
ten feet away: drums, a log,
a gong of salvage metal. Chimes
of little Issan bells, pipes in a row, sometimes
a querulous harmonica.
Inside the elephant orchestra’ s audience,
bubbles form, of shame and joy, and burst.
Did elephants look so sad and wise,
a tourist thinks, her camera cold in her pocket,
before we came to say they look sad and wise?
Did mastodons have merry, unwrinkled faces?
Hollow boom soft chime, stamp of a padded foot,
from my bed
on a telephone
one is left,
my typewriter is
and I am
reduced to bird
just thought I'd
Words without much use
now. Unable to remake
the thing. And I thought
what should I think —
followed by: spring light looks
like feathers. (Birds
decorous.) What then
does this leave I asked
& was surprised to know
so quickly — that my understanding
of what the light & birds
could not be made to mean
would not detract
from them as they
were. Bound by feathers
(a thought, I will admit,
born of artifice alone)
At times they will fly under. The dome
contains jungles. Invent a sky under the dome.
Creatures awake, asleep, at play, aglow:
they float – unbottled genii – under the dome.
Southern Belle, a splash of black, dusted with gold,
dissembles, assembling, acts shy under the dome.
Cattleheart, Giant Swallowtail, Clipper:
sail, navigate sky high under the dome.
Like confetti – a wedding – bits of Rice
Paper: sheer mimicry under the dome.
Magnificent Owl, in air, a pansy,
it feeds, wings up, eye to eye, under the dome.
Dormant are pinnacles and streams of the mountains,
Chasms and bluffs and crawlers fed by the dark earth;
Dormant are wild animals and that tribe of bees
And monsters out of the sea’ s dark syntax;
Dormant are clans of birds with wings that envelop.
knows it never
nests on urban
fences set its
head askew, its
Few have got it
on their lists and
fewer still have
caught it singing,
of the done-in
Big Sur tremor-
tenor — only
ten or twenty
hang glide over
You have a strange pet —
one eye is a cat’ s, the other a sheep’ s.
Yet, it won’ t socialize with felines,
will attack any flock.
On moonlit nights,
it wanders on the roof.
When you’ re alone
it will lie in your lap
preoccupied, slowly studying you
until — on its face — a challenge.
Translated from the Chinese