And the Old Man Speaks of Paradise: a Ghazal
Do not move. Let me speak of a river in paradise
A turquoise gift from fiery stars that is paradise
How do you measure a river’s weight, color, smell, touch?
How do you feel the veins of sand in a breathing paradise?
Eons of earth story, long before rocks, plants or bones
Bulging with flesh and blood in every corner of paradise
You call me Old Man, 12,000 years old, but really I’m a baby of
River Warren, swollen with glacier water flooding the paradise
My torso sloughed by old ice, two cities on sandstone bluffs
Headwaters of a 2350-mile road towards the gulf of paradise
A walk along the beach, a bag of rocks, fossils and agates
Each tells stories of the river, land & life—a kinship of paradise
Come to me at dawn or dusk, by foot, canoe or a single shell
To greet eagles, cranes, fox, trees…a ten-mile gorge of paradise
Gar, bass, goldeye, redhorse, bowfin, stoneroller, buffalo, drum, sunfish
Sickleback, darter, walleye, dace, mooneye…in the waves of paradise
The St. Anthony Fall that walked up 10 miles from Fort Snelling
Clams and shells in Kasota stones—layered history of paradise
Put your fingers into the bluff, and pull a handful of sand
From the Ordovician sea, each perfect to make a paradise
From time to time, I take you into the amniotic womb
A reminder of our origin from a black, red, white, blue paradise
Do not dam me. To move freely is to evolve is to live
Lock feeds fear feeds hate feeds violence to the base of paradise
The Mississippi, temple on earth, home of all living things
Would you tread with love, through the heart of paradise?
We are water—H2O—two hands under an open heart
Pulsing, dissolving, bonding the earth to a green paradise
Stop seeking before or after life, for a paradise
Already in us, in each cell of being that is paradise
Copyright © 2016 by Wang Ping. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
"I was born in Shanghai, the end of the Yangtze. Now I live at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, a confluence of time and space layered with histories of geology, geography, and cultures. The Twin Cities sit on both sides of the magnificent sandstone bluffs. If you pick up a sandstone on the beach, you can crush it with your fingers, and you get a handful of sand. Each grain tells a story of the land, river, and people. Each drop of water contains a paradise. I want to sing this paradise in Ghazal, a tradition from the mystical poet Rumi."