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A Hanging Screen

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“In warm sunlight jade
engenders smoke”; poetry,
like indigo mountain,
keeps its distance;

the light plays words
and figures, stone’s
edge edged with air,
green haze growing.

Amused by butterflies,
Chuang Tsu dreaming,
the emperor’s heart in
spring, thoroughly transformed.

Still, in pieces, the words
rest so much apart.
Risking my life I lean
on dangerous railings.


When the dream wakes
to its own particulars,
the strands scattered,
loose hair on muslin,

broken characters
the reeds make, unmake—
vague    no reason
bright    again    dark—

the sidewalk’s fracturing,
damp willow twig
forked there as well
locust seedpods:

Autumn, then, and
gourd music, the wind—
indistinct    no-stop
break    again    join.


Drifting between narrow
bluffs, sharp bends
enclose us, deep
rain-cuts all around—

mountain pass, slant
sunlight and snow line,
the dream piazza
gilded into a high valley;

“haze, mist,” Kuo Hsi
interrupted, sluice-
way wedged into
a mountain like a keel;

what was said by fire-
light, the bandit in
the yellow sombrero
laughing at the window.

Chill surprise of
Chinese apples, glitter
of the Pacific between
buildings—caught in

passing, an empty
rowboat or Russian sealer
riding at anchor, Magellan
full sail in dusty curtains,

casements groan like
taut rigging, bright
shore, the heat lines
full of spice, breadfruit

stretching to our hands;
a new nourishment, this
mission, or shaded rest—
Pitcairn, a century or more.


I wanted to make this poem
of silk, stretched tight
and polished, an ink wash
drifting ambiguous mountains,

words gathered like momentary
details, instances of wind
and water among loose foliage,
painting au plein air; that is

alive and painting a surface
of perpetual change, the eye’s
return always at odds with
memory, however certain;

the wind’s warp in the cloth,
pressing the brushstroke back
full of squalls, relaxing
the line out of reach.

Michael Anania, “A Hanging Screen” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by Michael Anania. Used by permission of Asphodel Press/Acorn Alliance.
Source: Selected Poems (1994)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 1975 issue of Poetry magazine

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A Hanging Screen

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