Shooting Star

By Arthur Sze b. 1950 Arthur Sze
1    In a concussion,
      the mind severs the pain:
      you don’t remember flying off a motorcycle,
      and landing face first
      in a cholla.

      But a woman stabbed in her apartment,
      by a prowler searching for
      money and drugs,
      will never forget her startled shriek
      die in her throat,
      blood soaking into the floor.

      The quotidian violence of the world
      is like a full moon rising over the Ortiz mountains;
      its pull is everywhere.
      But let me live a life of violent surprise
      and startled joy. I want to
      thrust a purple iris into your hand,
      give you a sudden embrace.

      I want to live as Wang Hsi-chih lived
      writing characters in gold ink on black silk—
      not to frame on a wall,
      but to live the splendor now.

2    Deprived of sleep, she hallucinated
      and, believing she had sold the genetic
      research on carp, signed a confession.
      Picking psilocybin mushrooms in the mountains

      of Veracruz, I hear tin cowbells
      in the slow rain, see men wasted on pulque
      sitting under palm trees. Is it
      so hard to see things as they truly are:

      a route marked in red ink on a map,
      the shadows of apricot leaves thrown
      in wind and sun on a wall? It is
      easy to imagine a desert full of agaves

      and golden barrel cactus, red earth, a red sun.
      But to truly live one must see things
      as they are, as they might become:
      a wrench is not a fingerprint

      on a stolen car, nor baling wire
      the undertow of the ocean. I may hallucinate,
      but see the men in drenched clothes
      as men who saw and saw and refuse to see.

3    Think of being a judge or architect
      or trombonist, and do not worry whether
      thinking so makes it so. I overhear
      two men talking in another room;

      I cannot transcribe the conversation
      word for word, but know if they are
      vexed or depressed, joyful or nostalgic.
      An elm leaf floats on a pond.

      Look, a child wants to be a cardiologist
      then a cartographer, but wanting so
      does not make it so. It is not
      a question of copying out the Heart Sutra

      in your own blood on an alabaster wall.
      It is not a question of grief or joy.
      But as a fetus grows and grows,
      as the autumn moon ripens the grapes,

      greed and cruelty and hunger for power
      ripen us, enable us to grieve, act,
      laugh, shriek, see, see it all as
      the water on which the elm leaf floats.

4    Write out the memories of your life
      in red-gold disappearing ink, so that it all
      dies, no lives. Each word you speak
      dies, no lives. Is it all
      at once in the mind? I once stepped
      on a sea urchin, used a needle to dig out
      the purple spines; blood soaked my hands.
      But one spine was left, and I carried
      it a thousand miles. I saw then
      the olive leaves die on the branch,
      saw dogs tear flesh off a sheep’s corpse.
      To live at all is to grieve;
      but, once, to have it all at once
      is to see a shooting star: shooting star
      shooting star.

Arthur Sze, “Shooting Star” from The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998. Copyright © 1998 by Arthur Sze. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townshend, WA 98368-0271,

Source: The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Arthur Sze b. 1950

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Time & Brevity, Nature, The Body, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Arthur  Sze


Arthur Sze was born in New York City in 1950, and educated at the University of California-Berkeley. Known for his difficult, meticulous poems, Sze’s work has been described as the “intersection of Taoist contemplation, Zen rock gardens and postmodern experimentation” by the critic John Tritica. The poet Dana Levin described Sze as “a poet of what I would call Deep Noticing, a strong lineage in American poetry. Its most obvious . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Time & Brevity, Nature, The Body, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.