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.
Though neither you nor I saw flowering pistachio trees
in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, though neither
you nor I saw the Tigris River stained with ink,
though we never heard a pistachio shell dehisce,
we have taken turns holding a panda as it munched
on bamboo leaves, and I know that rustle now.
I have awakened beside you and inhaled August
sunlight in your hair. I’ve listened to the scroll
and unscroll of your breath—dolphins arc along
the surface between white-capped waves; here,
years after we sifted yarrow and read from the Book
of Changes, I mark the dissolving hues in the west
as the sky brightens above overhanging willows.
The panda fidgets as it pushes a stalk farther
into its mouth. We step into a clearing with budding
chanterelles; and, though this space shrinks and
is obscured in the traffic of a day, here is the anchor
I drop into the depths of teal water. I gaze deeply
at the panda’s black patches around its eyes;
how did it evolve from carnivore to eater of bamboo?
So many transfigurations I will never fathom.
The arc of our lives is a brightening then dimming,
brightening then dimming—a woman catches
fireflies in an orchard with the swish of a net.
I pick an openmouthed pistachio from a bowl
and crack it apart: a hint of Assyria spills
into the alluvial fan of sunlight. I read spring in
autumn in the scroll of your breath; though
neither you nor I saw the completion of the Great Wall,
I wake to the unrepeatable contour of this breath.