Song VII (“My song has put off her adornments”)

My song has put off her adornments.
She has no pride of dress and decoration.
Ornaments would mar our union;
they would come between thee and me;
their jingling would drown thy whispers.

My poet’ s vanity dies in shame before thy sight.
O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet.
Only let me make my life simple and straight,
like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.

Taklamakan Desert

Why I’ m going to the Taklamakan Desert:
the emptiness there.

Why I’ m going to the Taklamakan Desert
at seventy-five, leaving all words behind: the cry
of the emptiness there.

Why I’ m going to the Taklamakan Desert:
I can no longer stand
the world’ s greed
or mine.

There, in the Taklamakan Desert,
the silence of a thousand-year-old skull.

Translated from the Korean

Bharatanatyam Dancer

Spaces in the electric air divide themselves
in circular rhythms, as the slender
grace of your arms and bell-tied ankles
describe a geometric topography, real, cosmic,
one that once reverberated continually in
a prescribed courtyard of an ancient temple

in South India. As your eyelids flit and flirt, and
match the subtle abhinaya in a flutter
of eye-lashes, the pupils create an
unusual focus, a sight only ciliary muscles
blessed and cloaked in celestial kaajal
could possibly enact.



some things, I knew,
were beyond choosing:

didu — grandmother — wilting
under cancer’ s terminal care.

mama — my uncle’ s — mysterious disappearance —
ventilator vibrating, severed
silently, in the hospital’ s unkempt dark.

an old friend’ s biting silence — unexplained —
promised loyalties melting for profit
abandoning long familial presences of trust.


Couched on crimson cushions,
pink bleeds gold

and red spills into one’ s heart.
Broad leather keeps time,

calibrating different hours
in different zones

unaware of the grammar
that makes sense.

Only random woofs and snores
of two distant dogs

on a very cold night
clears fog that is unresolved.

New plants wait for new heat —
to grow, to mature.

An old cane recliner contains
poetry for peace — woven

text keeping comfort in place.
But it is the impatience of want

The River of Girls

This is not really myth or secret.
This murmur in the mouth
of the mountain where the sound
of rain is born. This surging
past pilgrim town and village well.
This coin-thin vagina
and acid stain of bone.
This doctor with his rusty tools,
this street cleaner, this mother
laying down the bloody offerings
of birth. This is not the cry
of a beginning, or a river
buried in the bowels of the earth.
This is the sound of ten million girls
singing of a time in the universe
when they were born with tigers