As a child, fresh out of the hospital with tape covering the left side of my face, I began to count birds. At age fifty the sum total is precise and astonishing, my only secret. Some men count women or cars they've owned, their shirts -- long sleeved and short sleeved -- or shoes, but I have my birds, excluding, of course, the extraordinary days: the twenty-one thousand snow geese and sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache, the sky blinded by great frigate birds in the Pacific off Anconcito, Ecuador; the twenty-one thousand pink flamingos an Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania; the vast flocks of sea birds on the Seri coast of the Sea of Cortez down in Sonora that left at nightfall, then reappearing, resuming their exact positions at dawn; the one thousand cliff swallows nesting in the sand cliffs of Pyramid Point, their small round burrows like eyes, really the souls of the Anasazi who flew here a thousand years ago to wait the coming of the Manitou.
And then there were the usual, almost deadly birds of the soul -- the crow with silver harness I rode one night as if she were a black, feathered angel. the birds I became to escape unfortunate circumstances -- how the skin ached as the feathers shot out toward the light; the thousand birds the dogs helped me shoot to become a bird (grouse, woodcock, duck, dove, snipe, pheasant, prairie chicken, etc.).
On my deathbed I'll write this secret number on a slip of paper and pass it to my wife and two daughters. It will be a hot evening in June and they might be glancing out the window at the thunderstorm's approach from the west. Looking past their eyes and a dead fly on the window screen I'll wonder if there's a bird waiting for me in the onrushing clouds. O birds, I'll sing to myself, you've carried me along on this bloody voyage, carry me now into that cloud into the marvel of this final night.
I cannot visit your grave to offer flowers but am destined to spend all my life reading your poetry across a blizzard of a thousand miles days of celebration smashed to pieces, my soul trembling
finally able to write what's in one's heart of hearts still unable to live what's in one's heart of hearts this is the tragedy we share your mouth is even more reticent, that is
a secret of fate, you can't say it out loud all you can do is endure, endure, while your pen leaves ever deeper marks— in order to obtain, you relinquish in order to be born, you demand that you die, die all the way
this is you, from woe upon woe you find me you test me, making my life suddenly painful from snow to snow, on the roaring, muddy Beijing buses I read your poetry, in my heart I
shout out all those noble names all that exile, sacrifice, testimony, all those souls meeting in the quiver of mass all that glitter inside death, and my
very own soil! tears in the eyes of Northern livestock maple leaves on fire in the wind darkness in the people's stomachs, hunger, how could I cast all that aside and talk about myself
just like you must weather the attack of a blizzard yet more fierce so as to stand guard over your Russia, your Larissa, the beautiful, the one not to be wounded again Your adventure one dares not believe
with the cold of snow all over, right in front of your eyes! and then, by candlelight, there's Levitan's autumn and in Pushkin's rhyme there's death and praise and sin spring is here, the bare black of boundless earth
turn your soul toward all of this, poet this is happiness, it is the highest decree that rises from the heart it is not hardship, it is all this that you shoulder in the end still unstoppable, coming forth to search for us
to dig us up: it demands symmetry or a requiem raging louder than its echo and we, how would we be worthy to appear before your grave? this is a crying shame! this is the Beijing winter in December
this is sorrow in your eyes, inquiries, interrogation like a bell sound weighing down on my soul this is pain, this is happiness, to say it out loud I need ice and snow to fill my life
The last line is great sent into outer space for alien bacteria to read illuminated by the 5 moons then for a million years before any creature invents fire a rainy Sunday in Cambodia before one creature invents fire then for a million years illuminated by the 5 moons for alien bacteria to read sent into outer space the last line is great
For so many years I've dreamt of writing poetry like a conversation Words just rolling out
For many years, I have also said said many things, but what I’ve said wasn’t like that
In self-reflection I ask: Why is this? Why can't poetry ever be straightforward, can't it be like the feathers on a bird, like the leaves on a mulberry tree
When I was in Chinese class I was still too small but my courage was conversely large, munching literature gnawing words, that starving look of swallowing the jujube and even its pit
Only now do I know that from early on language was like a sharp blade cutting up my heart never to be mended again Cows die under the knife and can never again use their tongues to be near that fresh grass
Sometimes I am scared to sleep Because after falling asleep language becomes cluttered difficult to control and command Some verbs go to ill-fitting places As if apples did not always hang on apple trees
But sometimes I also yearn to sleep Yearn for that untimely verb to enter the dominion of pondering day and night That is the whole world speaking from back to front All mirrors shattered to pieces Words not always being spoken from one’s mouth The time I was most pleased was when the tips of my toes poured out the prattling of lovers
I want to talk about fish again This thing entangled with my life Every time it swishes it makes me shiver
It gurgles making me continuously dream, those sounds always want me to think that I’m close to the headwaters I already have no need to open my mouth, don't need to open my mouth
Some sounds are left over Some peels are left over, how do we deal with them?
When I was a child I liked to break up Chinese characters, in those meaningless brush strokes look for secrets I am not Han, yet am also distant from my own ethnicity I don’t understand my mother tongue, those folksongs are only ever guests in the Han language
What else can I do? maybe forever listen to those whirling maple leaves in my heart
That will be a glorious reduction of heaven without the buzzes of electronic space shrunk to the size of the mote in the eye then the way our dreams will wake us to laugh together at the kitten who has managed a climb to the top of the bookcase and upside down is worrying a tasselled bookmark to leave a claw-mark on a book of Chinese history and the scar house factory is dark and boarded up amid the cuts and brokenness and the missing whats of all we held and all the gentleness we have left a lifetime of books and animals that made us fools while our birthmarks are the only words we study now.
The animals the fishes and the birds fly the emus scoot when they’re frightened they were so bigAls das Kind Kind war the bugs plant life and the Swamp Thing I think of them as I drink a strong coffee the cheese pears bacon the satay sauce the butter oils and chemical food flavours nothing in the sky tonight no moon no stars I see Dorothea Lange’s old photos of battlers who entered the Depression for just a minute now it's like we’ll destroy anything for a feed O the expense by which nothing ever comes to see the parting clouds the moon the mess you want to write the poem that fixes Babylon.
As I grow up, I begin to have a shadow. I cannot ignore it, unless it merges into another, greater shadow — night. But whose shadow is night? The earth casts its shadow on the moon, hence the lunar eclipse: the moon casts its shadow on the earth, hence the solar eclipse. All of us live in shadow. On the other side of the shadow lies fire; and shadow gives us our only basis for measuring the sun. In daily life, because there is only one sun, nothing can have multiple shadows; as for our souls, the shadow is the sum total of desire, selfishness, fear, vanity, jealousy, cruelty and death. Shadow endows things with reality. To strip a thing of its reality, one only needs to strip it of its shadow. The sea has no shadow; therefore it feels like an illusion. Objects in our dreams have no shadow; therefore they form another world. Thus people have every reason to believe that ghosts have no shadow.
and my treasure hasn't yet been found I don't believe in literary circles anymore broken into pieces it's the hard truth rubbish is stacked on bookstore shelves never once was there a family of poets shit shit shit goodnight
You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore, find another city better than this one. Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong and my heart lies buried like something dead. How long can I let my mind moulder in this place? Wherever I turn, wherever I look, I see the black ruins of my life, here, where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore. This city will always pursue you. You’ll walk the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses. You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere: there’s no ship for you, there’s no road. Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner, you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.
Almost summer on a gentle night you can kill a poem writing it too carefully
anyway by writing too easily
When did Shanghai stop loving you
was it at the train station was it in the hotel room did a malignancy grow out of the subway system? Name me a street and spit kill the heart and disconnect disappear in the twilight walk your invisible walk past me I am silent If you can kill a city keep the countryside intact wander the fields of the mind kicking stones like poems down a dark and endless track
It was between the rains yes it was one summer night when I asked for laughter for a kindness and a kiss when the city stopped loving me
the first thing to disappear was a name followed by endless road-signs the hand I hold out the window is urged by an opposite wind to stay if it’s not Beijing that becomes a ruin then it has to be me in the joy of my one-woman disappearance, as far as everyone in my past is concerned I am nearly as secret as decease.
through identical entrances we return once again to Beijing Beijing’s clock time Beijing’s air temperature Beijing’s anxieties none of these stop simply because of my momentary dying.
in the time that I’ve been out of town I have not been mourned have not be called on have not been asked after the sun we use now is the same one we used in the past once more Beijing has brought me unforeseen lightness and heartache
imagine all the people hungry imagining you the children who are beaten imagine the next cruelty the tears the terrible fears the million factory stiffs imagine the mine workers well I wonder if you can go underground hear the siren feel the weight without religion now imagine you can't move well I wonder if you can imagine a world without music the end of sound and song of sight and thought and colour imagine the rocks and walls the enduring pain and sorrow imagining all the people well I wonder if you can
I walked too far I didn’t go far enough the miles stretched so beautifully at the end of you I guess was me well shit I think it’s in the blood the past is a leaking water bottle how I loved to watch you sleeping your breath was always milky how many days was I thirsty I dressed warmly for you mountains of joys and cares that long track what perils took your hand and ran away
That knowledge can kill you If your day doesn’t begin in Torrents of breath and blood Plants get rescued the sprout Natters on about tomorrow Ignores the shells and sparrows Before the demonstrations None of us quite believed in The shouting made us hoarse The final moments wavering Of course violence mounts slowly Looking back out there rocks thrown We practise it too poetry is dangerous.
Sometimes I think about climbing a telephone pole but then what? Telephone poles now have almost nothing to do with telephones but I liked how a curly cord went into the receiver then a sturdier black wire went into the wall through the wall out to a pole then miles and miles of wire pole wire pole sometimes underground underwater to whomever you needed who’d dry her hands thinking Gosh now what or Thank heavens or Oh no then say Hello as a question or a lie then the intimate negotiations and sorry confessions and flat jokes would take word form from excited electrons moving through the wire and sometimes a cowboy would suddenly gallop to town through dust and cactus Yup a storm’s a-coming to call someone but the fates always intend so the cowboy must listen for the rest of his days to the phone make a funny insect-performing-Beckett sound until the operator comes on and says, Sorry but that calling area's been hit by the blast and the cowboy thinks, What blast? What blast? riding off into the moonlessly blue chaparral.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche. Pablo Neruda
Tonight I can write the saddest lines
you wrote when you remembered losing her the sky is still there to see her starry eyes again I sit at my desk feeling the spaces of the infinite the memories unfold like fresh sheets on a bed night is almost finished and the birds start to sing when at last I lay down my pen and try to sleep these words settle on my soul like dew on a pasture you wrote when you looked for her voice in the wind I fell down in the street, I got up in the street
I fell in love with the morning of the street its sick airs and purpose, just another day that didn't care much what I did, if my walk was to here or there, to sit, or watch, or wait in all the silence and the poems I can't keep it didn't matter where I was trying to get I was in a vague path in her direction, she was sleeping while I was floating, and we almost met.
I lean towards the radio (I'm waiting for someone) I drive a taxi in Qufu 77th descendant of Confucius around us the streets are lit it’s the dawn of a new era exemplary model workers at the end of their shift the sun rises in the yard and all so kissed by sorrow the laughter of the rich the neglect of the poor I can hardly read a book now the fares are rising and everyone is mad.
Prestidigitator, smoke and shaman Out of the shadows, from the outside Carter, butcherman, cowboy, business Of poetry and slide, the sun is setting When the flocks of birds wheel away Never was a man so incognito, he says With a pint in hand and a dry stilletto Parks his ass on a stool and tells them His stories of in-between, the outback Min Min lights and the Visitor he saw Never was a man so incognito, he says The night has fallen low, the bar flies Will insist on buying him many drinks He will struggle for less than a minute Tomorrow is only Thursday, excuse him He needs the dark to get ready. Thank you.
Without solitude, without the test of time, without the passion for silence, without the excitation and retention of the whole body, without a frightened stumbling, without wandering into a region of shade and invisibility, without memory of animality, without melancholy, without isolation in melancholy, there is no joy.
Who does not love what he has lost? We must love the lost, and love even the Erstwhile in that which is lost.
Human societies, derived imperceptibly from animal societies, are doomed to a cycle of predation and wintering – of war and respite from war – which is increasingly out of attunement with the linguistic, technical, mathematical, industrial, financial, linear temporality that humanity believes reflects its nature but that produces a rhythm by which it does not live.
Writing brings into being a gap, a discrepancy. It disjoints dialogue which was previously indistinct and continuous. The letter is the staying, the deferring, the sabbatical, the – transitory or fallacious or mendacious or fantastical or fictitious – other world. Writing institutes the contre-temps -- the delay.
Those who try to collude with the system will become its images.
Humanity can no longer entrust anything of itself to anything.
Suddenly infinitely amplified by the invention of electricity and the multiplication of its technology, music has become incessant, aggressing night and day, in the commercial streets of city centers, in shopping centers, in arcades, in department stores, in bookstores, in lobbies of foreign banks, even at the beach, in private apartments, in restaurants, in taxis, in the metro, in airports. Even in airplanes during takeoff and landing.
All is not said.
That which claims not to be concealed is mere semblance.
One reaches an age when one no longer meets life but time. One ceases to see life as living. One sees time in the act of devouring life raw. One’s heart seizes up. One clings to driftwood just to see a little more of the spectacle bleeding from one end of the world to the other, and yet not fall in.
The person who writes is someone who tries to redeem what has been pawned.
There are stairs to take and steps to consider, after all the slender things we are stars can wait a little longer distance must be reached love is met on the landing (a demon black cat flashes past, between our future legs) we recognize each other one going up the other down we hardly have time to speak platitudes of stairs and star a bad day ahead of us or behind a meeting later, always later. II. An Ape's Raincoat
No more going back it's a playful galaxy (all majestic dress) stars are mine and thine and we their celestial seawrack Still more vintage wine upon the leaning trellis (takes a year to press) a star gently climbs the stairs as he waits to hear her sigh
Still more petrichor on the breasts of a woman (a star to caress) who so loves each sleepy rain her lover listens to her snore Still more empty shells that listen on the seashore (still the seagulls' mess) to time in its giggling core pumping stars from distant wells. III. Bashō Was The Snowball
I just wrote a poem about reaching space at the speed of light
Three bags full of cock & steam. I guess that’s all. Empty shovel
We try remembering every memory to forget which ones are special
Enlightened thought the chance that physics has always waited for
The possibility exists somewhere. The translation looks into a cold mirror
Bashō was the snowball sharp-shooter of hats. But that was then. It’s still winter
I’m still writing. So are you. The next one comes at the speed of light.
IV. The Extra Weight
I don’t believe the writing on the wall
Mixed bird offerings or that insects wake
Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin
Even if the meal is found wanting is
Counting gematria really the dessert of wisdom? My mind's made up the spring is cleansed My life is the sum of all my choices
at least the choices that waited for me
But the weight extra but When birds come closer when mountaintops are sand When the scales are finally settled