from A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems

The End of a Beginning

The beginning is always difficult.
The immigrant worked his knuckles to the bone
only to die under the wheels of the railroad.
One thousand years before him, his ancestor fell
building yet another annex to the Great Wall—
and was entombed within his work. And I,
the beginning of an end, the end of a beginning,
sit here, drink unfermented green tea,
scrawl these paltry lines for you. Grandfather,
on your one-hundredth birthday, I have
the answers to your last riddles:

This is why the baboon’s ass is red.
Why horses lie down only in moments of disaster.
Why the hyena’s back is forever scarred.
Why, that one hare who was saved, splits his upper lip,
in a fit of hysterical laughter.