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Ten Thousand to One

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The Phoenicians guarded a recipe that required
ten thousand murex shells to make
an ounce of Tyrian purple.

Scan the surface of Aldebaran with a radio wave;
grind lapis lazuli
into ultramarine.

Search the summer sky for an Anasazi turkey constellation;
see algae under an electron microscope
resemble a Magellanic Cloud.

A chemist tried to convert benzene into quinine,
but blundered into a violet
aniline dye instead.

Have you ever seen maggots feed on a dead rat?
Listen to a red-tailed hawk glide
over the hushed spruce and

pines in a canyon. Feel a drop of water roll
down a pine needle, and glisten,
hanging, at the tip.

Arthur Sze, “Ten Thousand to One” 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, coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998 (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
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Ten Thousand to One

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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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