Corpses push up through thawing permafrost
by Arthur Sze
as I scrape salmon skin off a pan at the sink;
on the porch, motes in slanting yellow light
undulate in air. Is Venus at dusk as luminous
as Venus at dawn? Yesterday I was about to
seal a borax capsule angled up from the bottom
of a decaying exterior jamb when I glimpsed
jagged ice floating in a bay. Naval sonar
slices through whales, even as a portion
of male dorsal fin is served to the captain
of an umiak. Stopped in traffic, he swings from
a chairlift, gazes down at scarlet paintbrush.
Moistening an envelope before sealing it,
I recall the slight noise you made when I
grazed your shoulder. When a frost wiped out
the chalk blue flowering plant by the door,
I watered until it revived from the roots.
The song of a knife sharpener in an alley
passes through the mind of a microbiologist
before he undergoes anesthesia for surgery.
The first night of autumn has singed
bell peppers by the fence, while budding
chamisa stalks in the courtyard bend to ground.
Observing people conversing at a nearby table,
he visualizes the momentary convergence
and divergence of lines passing through a point.
The wisteria along the porch never blooms;
a praying mantis on the wood floor sips water
from a dog bowl. Laughter from upstairs echoes
downstairs as teenage girls compare bra sizes.
An ex-army officer turned critic frets
over the composition of a search committee,
snickers and disparages rival candidates.
A welder, who turns away for a few seconds
to gaze at the Sangre de Cristos, detects a line
of trucks backed up on an international overpass
where exhaust spews onto houses below.
The day may be called One Toothroad or Six Thunderpain,
but the naming of a day will not transform it,
nor will the mathematics of time halt.
An imprint of ginkgo leaf—fan-shaped, slightly
thickened, slightly wavy on broad edge, two-
lobed, with forking parallel veins but no
midvein—in a slab of coal is momentary beauty,
while ginkgoes along a street dropping gold
leaves are mindless beauty of the quotidian.
Once thought extinct, the ginkgo
was discovered in Himalayan monasteries
and propagated back into the world. Although
I cannot save a grasshopper singed by frost
trying to warm itself on a sunlit walkway,
I ponder shadows of budding pink and orange
bougainvilleas on a wall. As masons level sand,
lay bricks in horizontal then vertical pairs,
we construct a ground to render a space
our own. As light from a partial lunar eclipse
diffuses down skylight walls, we rock and
sluice, rock and sluice, fingertips fanned
to fanned fingertips, debouch into plenitude.
Venus vanishes in a brightening sky:
the diamond ring of a solar eclipse persists.
You did not have to fly to Zimbabwe in June 2001
to experience it. The day recalls Thirteen Death
and One Deer when an end slips into a beginning.
I recall mating butterflies with red dots on wings,
the bow of a long liner thudding on waves,
crescendo of water beginning to boil in a kettle,
echoes of humpback whales. In silence, dancers
concentrate on movements onstage; lilacs bud
by a gate. As bits of consciousness constellate,
I rouse to a 3 A.M. December rain on the skylight.
A woman sweeps glass shards in a driveway,
oblivious to elm branches reflected on windshields
of passing cars. Juniper crackles in the fireplace;
flukes break the water as a whale dives.
The path of totality is not marked by
a shadow hurtling across the earth's surface
at three thousand kilometers per hour.
Our eyelashes attune to each other.
At the mouth of an arroyo, a lamb skull
and ribcage bleach in the sand; tufts
of fleece caught on barbed wire vanish.
The Shang carved characters in the skulls
of their enemies, but what transpired here?
You do not need to steep turtle shells
in blood to prognosticate clouds. Someone
dumps a refrigerator upstream in the riverbed
while you admire the yellow blossoms of
a golden rain tree. A woman weeds, sniffs
fragrance from a line of onions in her garden;
you scramble an egg, sip oolong tea.
The continuous bifurcates into the segmented
as the broken extends. Someone steals
a newspaper while we doze. A tiger
swallowtail lands on a patio columbine;
a single agaric breaks soil by a hollyhock.
Pushing aside branches of Russian olives
to approach the Pojoaque River, we spot
a splatter of flicker feathers in the dirt.
Here chance and fate enmesh.
Here I hold a black bowl rinsed with tea,
savor the warmth at my fingertips,
aroma of emptiness. We rock back and forth,
back and forth on water. Fins of spinner
dolphins break the waves; a whale spouts
to the north-northwest. What is not impelled?
Yellow hibiscus, zodiac, hairbrush;
barbed wire, smog, snowflake—when I still
my eyes, the moments dilate. Rain darkens
gravel in the courtyard; shriveled apples
on branches are weightless against dawn.