Published on Academy of American Poets (

Rock Paper Scissors

         Midnight snow swirls in the courtyard—
                 you wake and mark the steel-gray light of dawn,

                           the rhythm in your hands
                           of scissors cutting paper;

         you pull a blade against ribbon,
                    and the ribbon springs into a spiraling curl 
                                        when you release it;

         here, no one pulled a blade against the ribbon of desire,
                  a downy woodpecker drilled into a desiccated pear tree; 

         you consider how paper wraps rock,
                                         scissors snips paper,

         how this game embodies the evolution
                                         of bacteria and antibiotic;

         you can’t see your fingerprints on a door handle,
                   but your smudging,

                                       like trudging footprints in snow,

         track where and how you go—

                             a chrysoprase heart in a box—

         how you look at a series of incidentals
                               and pull an invisible thread through them all.


Copyright © 2021 by Arthur Sze. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 7, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem emerged out of a mysterious seed. I watched snowfall and suddenly had a sensation of scissors cutting paper. In the way that the simple but enduring child’s game connects ‘rock,’ ‘paper,’ and ‘scissors,’ I tried to formally use stanzaic clusters to reveal interlocking configurations of consciousness.”
Arthur Sze


Arthur Sze

Arthur Sze is the author of eleven books of poetry, including The Glass Constellation (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017.

Date Published: 2021-04-07

Source URL: