Red chiles in a tilted basket catch sunlight —
we walk past a pile of burning mulberry leaves
into Xidi Village, enter a courtyard, notice
an inkstone, engraved with calligraphy, filled
with water and cassia petals, smell Ming
dynasty redwood panels. As a musician lifts
a small xun to his mouth and blows, I see kiwis
hanging from branches above a moon doorway:
a grandmother, once the youngest concubine,
propped in a chair with bandages around
her knees, complains of incessant pain;
someone spits in the street. As a second
musician plucks strings on a zither, pomelos
blacken on branches; a woman peels chestnuts;
two men in a flat-bottomed boat gather
duckweed out of a river. The notes splash,
silvery, onto cobblestone, and my fingers
suddenly ache: during the Cultural Revolution,
my aunt’s husband leapt out of a third-story
window; at dawn I mistook the cries of
birds for rain. When the musicians pause,
Yellow Mountain pines sway near Bright
Summit Peak; a pig scuffles behind an enclosure;
someone blows his nose. Traces of the past
are wisps of mulberry smoke rising above
roof tiles; and before we, too, vanish, we hike
to where three trails converge: hundreds
of people are stopped ahead of us, hundreds
come up behind: we form a rivulet of people
funneling down through a chasm in the granite.
by Arthur Sze
© Arthur Sze, 2009
Arthur Sze was born in New York City and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, he has conducted residencies at a number of different universities in the United States including Brown University, the University of Utah, and Washington University. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an American Book Award, and has received grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation. Sze was the first poet laureate of Santa Fe, where he lives with his wife, Carol Moldaw, and daughter, Sarah. You can read a recent interview with Arthur Sze here.
A temple near the hypocenter of the atomic blast at Hiroshima was disintegrated, but its ginkgo tree survived to bud and bloom. In his ninth book of poetry, The Gingko Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), from which ‘Pig’s Heaven Inn’ comes, Arthur Sze extends this metaphor of survival and flowering to transform the world’s factual darkness into precarious splendour. He ingeniously integrates the world’s mundane and miraculous into a moving, visionary journey. More poems from this collection are available to read here.
Copper Canyon Press is a non-profit publisher that believes poetry is vital to language and living. For thirty-five years, the Press has fostered the work of emerging, established, and world-renowned poets for an expanding audience. To find out more about Copper Canyon and its publications, click here.
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