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The Opal

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Nailing up chicken wire on the frame house,
or using a chalk line, or checking a level at a glance
gets to be easy.
                        We install double-pane windows
pressurized with argon between the panes
for elevations over 4500´.
                                       And use pick and shovel
to dig for the footing for the annex. Lay cinder blocks,
and check levels. Pour the cement floor, and
use wood float and steel trowel to finish the surface
as it sets.
                Nailing into rough, dense, knotted
two-by-twelves, or using a chalk line to mark the locations
of the fire blocks, or checking the level of a
stained eight-by-ten window header gets to be
          In nailing up chicken wire, we know
how to cut for the canal, pull the wire up over the
fire wall, make cuts for the corners, tuck it
around back, and nail two-head nails into the stud.
And when the footing is slightly uneven and we are
laying a first row of cinder blocks, know that a
small pebble under a corner often levels the top
to the row.
                And, starting on rock lath, the various
stages of a house - cutting vigas, cleaning aspens for
latillas, installing oak doors, or plastering the
adobe wall - are facets of a cut opal.

Arthur Sze, “The Opal” 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, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
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The Opal

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  • 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 and influential practitioner is William Carlos Williams; its iconic poem, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow.’ Dispassionate presentation of ‘the thing itself,’ ‘glazed with rain/water’ (or any particular) is its prevailing attribute… [yet] Sze’s attention is capacious; it’s attracted to paradox; it takes facing opponents and seats them side by side.” Though Sze’s early work, including the books The Willow Wind (1972) and Two Ravens (1976), was marked by its lyrical imagism, his later work has included many long, linked poems that take...

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