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Arthur Sze: California Poets Part 5, Three Poems

Arthur Sze

December 22nd, 2022

California Poets: Part V

Arthur Sze

Three Poems


Vanilla farmers in Madagascar sit in the dark with rifles; at two a.m., after a thunderstorm, I lurch down the hallway and check the oak floor under a skylight, place a towel in a pan. As if armed, waiting for a blue string to trip a thief, I listen in the hush at a point where ink flows out of a pen onto a white Sahara of a page. Adjusting the rearview mirror in the car before backing out of the garage, I ask, what is the logarithm of a dream? How do you trace a sphere whose center is nowhere? It is hard to believe farmers pollinate vanilla orchids with toothpick-sized needles, yet we do as needed; pouring syrup on a pancake, I catch the scent of vines, race along the circumference, sensing what it’s like to sit in the dark with nothing in my hands.

From The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2021)


Stopping to catch my breath on a switchback,

I run my fingers along the leaves of a yucca:

each blade curved, sharp, radiating from a core—

in this warmest of Novembers, the dead

push out of thawing permafrost: in a huge

blotch of black ink that now hangs, framed,

on a wall, Gu Cheng wrote the character

fate, and a woman shrugs, “When you look

at me, you’re far away.” Last night, gazing

at Orion’s belt and sword sparkling in the sky,

I saw how we yearn for connection where

no connection exists: what belt, what sword?

Glancing at boulders in the ravine, I catch

a flock of Stellar’s jays scavenging along

the ground; I scavenge among pine needles

for one to breathe into flame, gaze

at yuccas whose blades collect dew at dawn

and at dust floating in sunlight above the trail.

From The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems

(Copper Canyon Press, 2021)

Pitch Blue

I can't stop—

Wading into a lake—

Skipping one flat stone after another across the surface of a pond—

In a sarcophagus,

lapis inlaid along the eyelids of a death mask—

Wool oxidizing when pulled out of the dye bath—

Like a deserted village with men approaching on horseback—

The moment before collision—

Never light this match—

From The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems

(Copper Canyon Press, 2021)

Author Bio:

Arthur Sze has published eleven books of poetry, including The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2021); Sight Lines, which won the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry; Compass Rose (2014), a Pulitzer Prize finalist; The Ginkgo Light (2009), selected for the PEN Southwest Book Award and the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Book Award; Quipu (2005); The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998, selected for the Balcones Poetry Prize and the Asian-American Literary Award; and Archipelago (1995), selected for an American Book Award. He has also published one book of Chinese poetry translations, The Silk Dragon (2001), selected for the Western States Book Award, and edited Chinese Writers on Writing (2010). Sze is the recipient of many honors, including the 2021 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, a Lannan Literary Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, and grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. He is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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