Strike-Slip

- 1950-

Faucets drip, and the night plunges to minus
     fifteen degrees. Today you stared at a map
of Africa on a school wall and shook your head
     at “Yugoslavia” written along the Adriatic
coast near the top—how many times
     are lines drawn and redrawn, and to what end?

This ebony bead yours, that amber one
     another's. A coelacanth swims in the depths
off Mozambique and eludes a net; a crystal
     layer forms behind your retinas. Today
you saw the long plastic sheet in the furrow
     blown, like a shroud, around elm branches.

A V-shaped aquatic grass cutter leans
     against the porch, and you ponder how things
get to where they are. A young writer
     from Milwaukee who yearned to travel calls—
he’s hiked the Himalayas and frets
     at what to do: in Nepal, during civil strife,

he and an Israeli backpacker smoked
     and yakked all night in the emptied hotel;
now that the snow is dissolving off Everest,
     bodies of climbers and trash are exposed.
A glowing eel in the darkness—anguish.
     He clacks the beads, how to live, where to go.

More by Arthur Sze

Slanting Light

Slanting light casts onto a stucco wall
the shadows of upwardly zigzagging plum branches.

I can see the thinning of branches to the very twig.
I have to sift what you say, what she thinks,

what he believes is genetic strength, what
they agree is inevitable. I have to sift this

quirky and lashing stillness of form to see myself,
even as I see laid out on a table for Death

an assortment of pomegranates and gourds.
And what if Death eats a few pomegranate seeds?

Does it insure a few years of pungent spring?
I see one gourd, yellow from midsection to top

and zucchini-green lower down, but
already the big orange gourd is gnawed black.

I have no idea why the one survives the killing nights.
I have to sift what you said, what I felt,

what you hoped, what I knew. I have to sift 
death as the stark light sifts the branches of the plum.

Spring Snow

A spring snow coincides with plum blossoms.
In a month, you will forget, then remember
when nine ravens perched in the elm sway in wind.

I will remember when I brake to a stop,
and a hubcap rolls through the intersection.
An angry man grinds pepper onto his salad;

it is how you nail a tin amulet ear
into the lintel. If, in deep emotion, we are
possessed by the idea of possession,

we can never lose to recover what is ours.
Sounds of an abacus are amplified and condensed
to resemble sounds of hail on a tin roof,

but mind opens to the smell of lightening.
Bodies were vaporized to shadows by intense heat;
in memory people outline bodies on walls.

Looking Back on the Muckleshoot Reservation from Galisteo Street, Santa Fe

The bow of a Muckleshoot canoe, blessed
with eagle feather and sprig of yellow cedar,
is launched into a bay. A girl watches
her mother fry venison slabs in a skillet—
drops of blood sizzle, evaporate. Because
a neighbor feeds them, they eat wordlessly;
the silence breaks when she occasionally
gags, reaches into her throat, pulls out hair.
Gone is the father, riled, arguing with his boss,
who drove to the shooting range after work;
gone, the accountant who embezzled funds,
displayed a pickup and proclaimed a winning
flush at the casino. You donate chicken soup
and clothes but never learn if they arrive
at the south end of the city. Your small
acts are sandpiper tracks in wet sand.
Newspapers, plastic containers, beer bottles
fill bins along the sloping one-way street.