The Awful Ease of Tides

By James Thomas Stevens b. 1966

for Arthur Sze


Somehow precise and unquestionable,
the cut of the Chinese man’s hair.
Never before this certainty,
I consider the decision of each strand.
The diameter. The angle.
So black, the way it appears,
crashing against the hard corner of his jaw.


I consider the darkness.
You are appointed court photographer. Consider this picture.


My small face is red behind a bath towel curtain.
I watch a funeral that is taking place next door.
So black, my dog,
hurling himself against a chain link fence.


The casket is lowered and I am removing rusty pins
from the grease on the window’s aluminum track,
along with strands of hair.


This is pressing.
I mark it with an asterisk. Black and large.


A vague feeling,
pressing itself against a snowfence in my mind.
Like a threat, I view the way you cut your hair
as if it were a history of something small.

James Thomas Stevens, “The Awful Ease of Tides” from A Bridge Dead in the Water. Copyright © 2007 by James Thomas Stevens. Reprinted by permission of Salt Publishing.

Source: A Bridge Dead in the Water (Salt Publishing, 2007)

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

Poet James Thomas Stevens b. 1966

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Living, Death

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 James Thomas Stevens


Poet James Thomas Stevens, a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Tribe, was born in Niagara Falls, New York. His Mohawk name, under which he sometimes publishes, is Aronhiótas. As an undergraduate he studied at the School of Visual Arts, Brooklyn College, and eventually at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where he earned an AFA in creative writing. Stevens subsequently earned an MFA from Brown University.
Stevens’s free-verse . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

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.