Hangzhou, Lake of the Poets

By Marie Ponsot b. 1921 Marie Ponsot

Reading the bones, wetting a fingertip   
to trace archaic characters, I feel
a breeze of silence flow up past my wrist,   
icy. Can I speak here? The bones say I must.
As the first light strikes across the lake, magpies   
scream, and the cast bones say the work must come true,   
it’s been true all along, we are what we do   
out on our digs. Dictor and looker, all eyes,   
with spade and a jeweler’s loupe I sift mud & dust   
for bone, for shellcast. Spy, archeologist   
of freshness, I expect sight-made-sound to reveal   
fear cold at the throat of change, and loosen its grip   
so that mind, riding the bloodwarm stream, wells up   
as the speech that bears it and is telling.


Magpies scream. Though the tongues of birds   
say Now and warn forward, free of a live past,
we seek back and forth for change, the ghostly sparkling
of our watertable under everywhere.
If I don’t speak to tap & ease it out,
I go dry & dumb & will die wicked.
On the lake of the poets a stone lamp flickers.   
It casts eight moons dancing, casting doubt   
on the moon that rides above the winter air.
Ice thaws in a poet’s throat; the springing
truth is fresh. It wakes taste. The taste lasts.
Language floods the mud; mind makes a cast of words;   
it precipitates, mercurial, like T’ang discourse
riding the tidal constant of its source.

Marie Ponsot, “Hangzhou, Lake of the Poets” from The Green Dark. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Ponsot. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Green Dark (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988)

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Poet Marie Ponsot b. 1921

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Nature, Arts & Sciences, Landscapes & Pastorals, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Ars Poetica

 Marie  Ponsot


Born in New York, poet and translator Marie Ponsot is the daughter of a teacher and a wine importer and was raised Catholic, a faith she still observes. She earned a BA at St. Joseph’s College for Women in Brooklyn, New York, and an MA in 17th-century literature at Columbia University. On a ship to Paris after World War II, she met poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who later published Ponsot’s debut collection through . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Arts & Sciences, Landscapes & Pastorals, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Ars Poetica

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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