A Room


There is, on the wall, a scroll of rice paper and silk, where

sixty years ago a monk, after grinding bamboo ash and the glue

of fish bones into a stick, rubbed the stick into stone and water, brushing

a moment of light from mind to paper. The brush was a large wool brush,

“the big cloud,” that rains water and ink and nothing it touches can be

changed or erased. On the floor is a rug woven from memory, of wool

shorn toward the end of spring after the animals were washed in the river.

Its red is from insects that lived in the bark of oaks, its green

the green of fungus on mulberry trees, its language illegible:

crosses, arrows,  and the repetition of houses and shoes.

The table near the window was a girl’s dowry chest

where stands a wooden statue of St. Dominic missing an arm, and near him

a Chinese couple in jade wait on pedestals of scholar-stone,

he stroking his long beard, hiding a sword behind his back,

she with an unopened lotus bloom over her shoulder.

Also two small Buddhas carried by hand from Hanzhou.

The blue crystal eggs were blown then etched by a diamond-cutter

who sold them in a city known for its nine-hundred-day siege.

A young man brought the coffee service from a souk in Istanbul,

six glass cups and a silver pot that chimes against a tray beside

books with the chapters Sauntering, Reading, Fencing,

and the Idea of Necessary Connexion, warning us against

attributing to objects the internal sensations

they occasion, such as joy at finding the scroll after taking

shelter in a shop on an afternoon lit with fire-pots.

The rug, soaked in the floodwaters that later destroyed the house,

was, in the end, saved by the snow it collected on a winter lawn,

its memory and the red of its insects intact, along with, by coincidence,

the dowry chest, the saint, the Chinese couple, Buddhas and blue eggs,

coffee service and books chosen at random, as our moments are,

our souls, and the souls of others, who glimmer beside us

for an instant, here by chance and radiant with significance.







A Bridge


Behind us a sea-cliff, landfall, ahead the wind,

tar-smoke, the sea, a carrick.

We sway on a bridge between them

above a great shattering. We have left

the verge, our certainty, and walk across

a chasm to the cries of cormorants, fulmars,

the wings of mute swans singing in flight.

Below us bladder-wrack, sea-froth and dulce,

sea against rocks in heave and salt, and between

bridge and sea an abyss we cross, as behind us

the headland recedes—cottages and boats, clouds and sheep,

a piping of oystercatchers dying out, and the callings

of kittiwake preparing to leave their nesting ground.

The bridge rises and falls with our steps, moving in wind

so we must hold fast the ropes

once made of hides and the hair of cows’ tails

hoisted over the silvering salmon as they leapt

into bag-nets too heavy to lift, hauled

across this very bridge, that rings in wind

like ship’s rigging, volary of rock pipits,

bazaar of guillemots, colony of puffins,

and in the blackest water below us, ghosts

of salmon, empty nets, and on the carrick

ruins of boats, nets, buoys and fisherman’s bothy.

We have only to keep walking for the bridge to go on.

The carrick is a foothold in the distance, a stone in time,

When we reach it, not only may the salmon return

but you will be alive again.

Wake me when we reach the carrick.

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