By Arthur Sze b. 1950 Arthur Sze
1    As an archaeologist unearths a mask with opercular teeth
      and abalone eyes, someone throws a broken fan and extension
      into a dumpster. A point of coincidence exists in the mind

      resembling the tension between a denotation and its stretch
      of definition: aurora: a luminous phenomenon consisting
      of streamers or arches of light appearing in the upper

      of a planet’s polar regions, caused by the emission of light
      from atoms excited by electrons accelerated along the planet’s
      magnetic field lines. The mind’s magnetic field lines.

      When the red shimmering in the huge dome of sky stops,
      a violet flare is already arcing up and across, while a man
      foraging a dumpster in Cleveland finds some celery and   
          charred fat.

      Hunger, angst: the blue shimmer of emotion, water speeding
      through a canyon; to see only to know: to wake finding
      a lug nut, ticket stub, string, personal card, ink smear, $2.76.

2    A Kwiakiutl wooden dish with a double-headed wolf
      is missing from a museum collection. And as

      the director checks to see if it was deaccessioned,
      a man sitting on a stool under bright lights

      shouts: a pachinko ball dropped vertiginously
      but struck a chiming ring and ricocheted to the left.

      We had no sense that a peony was opening,
      that a thousand white buds of a Kyoto camellia

      had opened at dusk and had closed at dawn.
      When the man steps out of the pachinko parlor,

      he will find himself vertiginously dropping
      in starless space. When he discovers

      that his daughter was cooking over smoking oil
      and shrieked in a fatal asthma attack,

      he will walk the bright streets in an implosion of grief,
      his mind will become an imploding star,

      he will know he is searching among bright gold threads
      for a black pattern in the weave.

3    Set a string loop into a figure of two diamonds,   
      four diamonds, one diamond:
      as a woman tightens her hand into a fist
      and rubs it in a circular motion over her heart,
      a bewildered man considering the semantics of set
      decides no through-line exists:

      to sink the head of a nail below the surface,
      to fix as a distinguishing imprint, sign, or appearance,
      to incite, put on a fine edge by grinding,
      to adjust, adorn, put in motion, make unyielding,
      to bend slightly the tooth points of a saw
      alternately in opposite directions.

      As the woman using her index finger makes
      spiral after spiral from her aorta up over her head,
      see the possibilities for transcendence:
      you have to die and die in your mind
      before you can begin to see the empty spaces
      the configuration of string defines.

4    A restorer examines the pieces of a tin chandelier,
      and notices the breaks in the arms are along
      old solder lines, and that cheap epoxy was used.

      He will have to scrape off the epoxy, scrub some flux,
      heat up the chandelier and use a proper solder.
      A pair of rough-legged hawks are circling over a pasture;

      one hawk cuts off the rabbit’s path of retreat
      while the other swoops with sharp angle and curve of wings.
      Cirrus, cirrostratus, cirrocumulus, altostratus,

      altocumulus, stratocumulus, nimbostratus,
      cumlus, cumulonimbus, stratus: is there no end?
      Memories stored in the body begin to glow.

      A woman seals basil in brown bags and hangs them
      from the ceiling. A dead sturgeon washes to shore.
      The sun is at the horizon, but another sun

      is rippling in water. It’s not that the angle
      of reflection equals the angle of incidence,
      but there’s exultation, pleasure, distress, death, love.

5    The world resembles a cuttlefish changing colors
      and shimmering. An apprentice archer has

      stretched the bowstring properly, but does not know
      he will miss the target because he is not aiming in the hips.

      He will learn to hit the target without aiming
      when he has died in his mind. I am not scared of death,

      though I am appalled at how obsession with security
      yields a pin-pushing, pencil-shaving existence.

      You can descend to the swimming level of sharks,
      be a giant kelp growing from the ocean bottom up

      to the surface light, but the critical moment
      is to die feeling the infinite stillness of the passions,

      to revel in the touch of hips, hair, lips, hands,
      feel the collapse of space in December light.

      When I know I am no longer trying to know the spectral lines
      of the earth, I can point to a cuttlefish and say,

      “Here it is sepia,” already it is deep-brown,
      and exult, “Here it is deep-brown,” already it is white.

6    Red koi swim toward us, and black
      carp are rising out of the depths of the pond,
      but our sustenance is a laugh, a grief,

      a walk at night in the snow,
      seeing the pure gold of a flickering candle -
      a moment at dusk when we see

      that deer have been staring at us,
      we did not see them edge out of the brush,
      a moment when someone turns on a light

      and turns a window into a mirror,
      a moment when a child asks,
      “When will it be tomorrow?”

      To say “A bell cannot be red and violet
      at the same place and time because
      of the logical structure of color” is true

      but is a dot that must enlarge into
      a zero: a void, enso, red shimmer,
      breath, endless beginning, pure body, pure mind.

Arthur Sze, “Streamers” 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)

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Poet Arthur Sze b. 1950

Subjects Relationships, Nature, Animals

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 . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Nature, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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