The soldiers are
hard at work,
building a house.
bodies into the earth
they paint the walls
Inside, the doors
are locked, shut
like eyes of stone.
and the stairs
are icy, all flights
There is no floor,
only a roof,
where ash is falling—
a human snow,
Come, they say.
This house will
You shall occupy it.
And you, and you—
Come, they say.
There is room
I have never understood how
the mountains when first seen by hunters
and traders and settlers were covered
with peavines. How could every cove
and clearing, old field, every
opening in the woods and even
understories of deep woods
be laced with vines and blossoms in
June? They say the flowers were so thick
the fumes were smothering. They tell
of shining fogs of bees above
the sprawling mess and every bush
and sapling tangled with tender
curls and tresses. I don’t see how
it was possible for wild peas
to take the woods in shade and deep
hollows and spread over cliffs in
hanging gardens and choke out other
flowers. It’s hard to believe the creek
banks and high ledges were that bright.
But hardest of all is to see
how such profusion, such overwhelming
lushness and lavish could vanish,
so completely disappear that
you must look through several valleys
to find a sprig or strand of wild
peavine curling on a weedstalk
like some word from a lost language
once flourishing on every tongue.
I wish I knew the contents and I wish the contents
like hairpins made of tortoiseshell or bone
though my braid was lopped off long ago,
like an overpowering pine incense
or a talisman from a Kyoto shrine,
like a Hello Kitty diary-lock-and-key,
Hello Kitty stickers or candies,
a netsuke in the shape of an octopus,
ticket stubs from the Bunraku —
or am I wishing for Mother? searching for Sister?
just hoping to give something Japanese to my daughters?
then again, people can read anything into dreams
and I do as well. I wish I possessed
my mother’s black lacquer box
though in my dream it was red,
though I wish my heart were content.
Taut, industrious little drum
tensed in the hollow of my wrist,
beating alert beneath my thumb,
nature ordains that you persist.
Even when sleep has swaddled half
the world and me with unconcern,
taps of your jungle telegraph
attend the planet’s somber turn.
What’s it about? —The steady throb
of traffic through your narrow sluice,
a rich monotony your job
of marking time must reproduce.
On the canal around the clock
you signal with your brisk tattoo
the level reached within the lock,
the drumming the vital cargo through.
That ebb and flow that you denote
returns in circles to its source;
and I, no rebel yet to rote,
am pleased to leave it to its course,
and pleased to make your paces mine,
once more to the pump and back.
Your sudden halt will be the sign
that I have left the beaten track.
It came with those scratches
from all their belt buckles,
palm-dark with their sweat
like the stock of a gun:
an arc of pickmarks cut
clear through the lacquer
where all the players before me
thumbed these same latches
where it sleeps in green velvet.
Once sang, as I sing, the old songs.
There’s no end, there’s no end
to this world, everlasting.
We crumble to dust in its arms.
Our father counts seven dusky shadows
beneath the elm, but my brother points out
one more – a fawn, motionless, alert –
& leashes the setter at this feet, hopes
the dog won’t shatter the precarious
hush. We’re overlooking the Susquehanna
from the back porch of his new house,
the river hills “round as loaves of manna
dropped from Heaven,” he tells me, his laugh
startling the whitetails. The heard dissolves,
vanishing in twilight as our father curses
their quick flight & my brother thinks of
dawn, when he’d stood like The Geographer
at his window, studying his square of the earth.
My mother the hard boned
Chinese woman 23 years
in this country
without bothering to learn
buys lean pork ribs
at the Hop Sang in Chinatown
and cooks dinner
for an extended family
of twenty-five during holidays.
Seated loosely around
the dining table
trying to eat quietly
I am scrubbed down
to skin and bone,
her oldest daughter—
spineless, a headless snake
a woman grandfather says
who should have her tendons
lifted out slowly
by the steel point
of a darning needle
until she writhes.
To my mother
capable of swallowing
the family whole
into my pelvis
while I sit
waiting for the boyfriend
white and forbidden
to touch our doorbell.