no idea why...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

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.


Sze’s poem has a dark quality, a hint of the unknowable, that is so compelling – “what you say, what she thinks, // what he believes”. A “quirky and lashing stillness,” all for Death. The chance of all things is such a powerful weapon. Why this one, and not that one?

The lines in this piece are thin, bare, resistant. Amid all this presence in life, the orange gourd is “gnawed black” – no doubt – from within – something hidden, determined, relentless. The bitterness here is that when you know, it’s already done, already finished. Nothing left. Stark light ... shadows of branches ... stillness ...

1 comment:

Pris said...