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Hangzhou, Lake of the Poets

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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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Hangzhou, Lake of the Poets

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