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The Redshifting Web

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1    The dragons on the back of a circular bronze mirror
      swirl without end. I sit and am an absorbing form:
      I absorb the outline of a snowy owl on a branch,
      the rigor mortis in a hand. I absorb the crunching sounds
      when you walk across a glacial lake with aquamarine
      ice heaved up here and there twenty feet high.
      I absorb the moment a jeweler pours molten gold
      into a cuttlefish mold and it begins to smoke.
      I absorb the weight of a pause when it tilts
      the conversation in a room. I absorb the moments
      he sleeps holding her right breast in his left hand
      and know it resembles glassy waves in a harbor
      in descending spring light. Is the mind a mirror?
      I see pig carcasses piled up from the floor
      on a boat docked at Wanxian and the cook
      who smokes inadvertently drops ashes into soup.
      I absorb the stench of burning cuttlefish bone,
      and as moments coalesce see to travel far is to return.

2    A cochineal picker goes blind;

      Mao, swimming across the Yangtze River,
      was buoyed by underwater frogmen;

      in the nursing home,
      she yelled, “Everyone here has Alzheimer’s!”

      it blistered his mouth;

      they thought the tape of erhu solos was a series of spy messages;

      finding a bag of piki pushpinned to the door;

      shapes of saguaros by starlight;

      a yogi tries on cowboy boots at a flea market;

      a peregrine falcon
      shears off a wing;

      her niece went through the house and took what she wanted;

      “The sooner the better”;

      like a blindman grinding the bones of a snow leopard;

      she knew you had come to cut her hair;

      suffering: this and that:
      iron 26, gold 79;

      they dared him to stare at the annular eclipse;

      the yellow pupils of a saw-whet owl.

3    The gold shimmer at the beginning of summer
      dissolves in a day. A fly mistakes a
      gold spider, the size of a pinhead, at the center
      of a glistening web. A morning mushroom
      knows nothing of twilight and dawn?
      Instead of developing a navy, Ci Xi
      ordered architects to construct a two-story
      marble boat that floats on a lotus-covered lake.
      Mistake a death cap for Caesar’s amanita
      and in hours a hepatic hole opens into the sky.
      To avoid yelling at his pregnant wife,
      a neighbor installs a boxing bag in a storeroom;
      he periodically goes in, punches, punches,
      reappears and smiles. A hummingbird moth
      hovers and hovers at a woman wearing a   
      cochineal-dyed flowery dress. Liu Hansheng
      collects hypodermic needles, washes them
      under a hand pump, dries them in sunlight,
      seals them in Red Cross plastic bags,
      resells them as sterilized new ones to hospitals.

4    Absorb a corpse-like silence and be a brass
      cone at the end of a string beginning
      to mark the x of stillness. You may puzzle
      as to why a meson beam oscillates, or why
      galaxies appear to be simultaneously redshifting
      in all directions, but do you stop to sense
      death pulling and pulling from the center
      of the earth to the end of the string?
      A mother screams at her son, “You’re so stupid,”
      but the motion of this anger is a circle.
      A teen was going to attend a demonstration,
      but his parents, worried about tear gas,
      persuaded him to stay home: he was bludgeoned
      to death that afternoon by a burglar.
      I awake dizzy with a searing headache   
      thinking what nightmare did I have
      that I cannot remember only to discover
      the slumlord dusted the floor with roach powder.

5    Moored off Qingdao, before sunrise,
      the pilot of a tanker is selling dismantled bicycles.
      Once, a watchmaker coated numbers on the dial

      with radioactive paint and periodically
      straightened the tip of the brush in his mouth.
      Our son sights the North Star through a straw

      taped to a protractor so that a bolt
      dangling from a string marks the latitude.
      I remember when he said his first word, “Clock”;

      his 6:02 is not mine, nor is your 7:03 his.
      We visit Aurelia in the nursing home and find
      she is sleeping curled in a fetal position.

      A chain-smoking acupuncturist burps, curses;
      a teen dips his head in paint thinner.
      We think, had I this then that would,

      but subjunctive form is surge and ache.
      Yellow dips of chamisa are flaring open.
      I drop a jar of mustard, and it shatters in a wave.

6    The smell of roasted chili;

      descending into the epilimnion;

      the shape of a datura leaf;

      a bank robber superglued his fingertips;

      in the lake,
      ocean-seal absorption;

      a moray snaps up a scorpion fish;

      he had to mistake and mistake;

      burned popcorn;

      he lifted the fly agaric off of blue paper
      and saw a white galaxy;

      sitting in a cold sweat;

      a child drinking Coke out of a formula bottle
      has all her teeth capped in gold;

      chrysanthemum-shaped fireworks exploding over the water;

      red piki passed down a ladder;


      as a lobster mold transforms a russula into a delicacy;

      replicating an Anasazi
      yucca fiber and turkey-feather blanket.

7    He looks at a series of mirrors: Warring States
      Western Han, Eastern Han, Tang, Song,
      and notices bits of irregular red corrosion

      on the Warring States mirror. On the back,
      three dragons swirl in mist and April air.
      After sixteen years that first kiss

      still has a flaring tail. He looks at the TLV
      pattern on the back of the Han mirror:
      the mind has diamond points east, south, west, north.

      He grimaces and pulls up a pile of potatoes,
      notices snow clouds coming in from the west.
      She places a sunflower head on the northwest

      corner of the fence. He looks at the back   
      of the Tang mirror: the lion and grape
      pattern is so wrought he turns, watches her

      pick eggplant, senses the underlying
      twist of pleasure and surprise that
      in mind they flow and respond endlessly.

8    I find a rufous hummingbird on the floor
      of a greenhouse, sense a redshifting
      along the radial string of a web.
      You may draw a cloud pattern in cement
      setting in a patio, or wake to
      sparkling ferns melting on a windowpane.
      The struck, plucked, bowed, blown
      sounds of the world come and go.
      As first light enters a telescope
      and one sees light of a star when the star
      has vanished, I see a finch at a feeder,
      beans germinating in darkness;
      a man with a pole pulls yarn out
      of an indigo vat, twists and untwists it;
      I hear a shout as a child finds Boletus
      barrowsii under ponderosa pine;
      I see you wearing an onyx-and-gold pin.
      In curved space, is a line a circle?

9    Pausing in the motion of a stroke,
      two right hands
      grasping a brush;

          staring through a skylight
          at a lunar eclipse;

      a great blue heron;
      wings flapping,
      landing on the rail of a float house;

          near and far:
          a continuous warp;

      a neighbor wants to tear down this fence;
      a workman covets it
      for a trastero;

          raccoons on the rooftop
          eating apricots;

      the character xuan -
      dark, dyed -
      pinned to a wall above a computer;

          lovers making
          a room glow;

      weaving on a vertical loom:
      sound of a comb,

          hiding a world in a world:
          1054, a supernova.

Arthur Sze, “The Redshifting Web” 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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