(For Chiu Desiu)

1. Chiu Desiu

Far from Shanghai and ill at ease among
the babble of gallery-goers, he caught the eye
of an American, swivelled his moon face
toward a wall of his paintings, asking anxiously,
“I see crack in universe. You see?”
Yes, I see. I see. He has soaked layers
of Chinese rice paper in inks as bright
as a severed artery gushing blood
or the wing of a little blue heron silvered with lightning
or a live chrysanthemum catching on fire.
Beyond our sight-lines he has planted eyes
that catch the eyes of those who have eyes to see,
and lets the universe peer back at us.

2. Valtellina

Along this valley, doorsill of the Alps,
great River Adda slices through the mountains
due east due west. A festal summer sun
smiles at the northern slope as at a bosom
on whose round apron cataracts of grapes
bloom into crimson bubbles. River Adda’s
southerly bank holds back a shadow forest
that shelters dark encampments of deer and boar.
The wine is called Inferno, juice of Hell.
After they've trampled it they gather mushrooms,
plants without leaves or sexuality,
attesting to the funerals of the trees,
the juice of hell, the phallus of the dead.

O Valtellina, guiltless as a crying
baby in the pathway of a flood,
may Hell protect you from utility,
damming or bottling you, sowing your banks
with spikes of utility towers, piercing your hills
with holes to bleed the arteries of steam
we humans may harness for our purposes:
feeding halogen highways, curling hair,
deranging sultry nights with a whirring fan.

3. Beyond Sight Lines

The wild remember what the dead retain.
Dogs bark and bristle at the noise of silence.
Shamans laid out portions of food for spirits
so that the gods would act on human need
in answer to a simple task, made pure
by emptying it of its utility.
Just so our prayers make tracks across a stream,
and reason can find no traces of a passage
although it knows the word has gone to ground.
Our lives have changed the earth, not merely scarred
it exhales intention as we pass.

4. Edge

Reason’s hands reach out but cannot touch
the spectral evasions that have been ordained
but never pocketed. Call them immeasurable,
call them unknown, the limits of the mind.
We ride the world like monkeys on a stallion
we cannot curb or steer. Our names for it
insult the world: we’d strip its body bare
in appetite to govern. If we gained
control, we’d spur ourselves to the abyss
that we have tried to think unthinkable.

5. Waking

At the far edge of sleep
or in uttermost despair
at the outcome of these dreams
we press beyond the boundaries
of ignorance and heartbreak.
“I see crack in universe. You see?”
O yes. I see. I see.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 7 Number 3, on page 47
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