Lichen Song and Other Poems



Lichen Song

—Snow in the air     you’ve seen a crust on the ceiling wood and never considered how I gather moisture when you step out of the shower     you don’t care that I respire as you breathe     for years you’ve washed your face gazed in the mirror shaved combed your hair rushed out while I who may grow an inch in a thousand years catch the tingling sunlight     you don’t understand how I can dive to a temperature of liquefied gas and warm back up absorb water start growing again without a scar     I can float numb in space be hit with cosmic rays then return to earth and warm out of my sleep to respire again without a hiccup     you come and go while I stay gripped to pine and the sugar of existence runs through you runs through me you sliver if you just go go go     if you slowed you could discover that mosquitoes bat their wings six hundred times a second and before they mate synchronize their wings­ you could feel how they flicker with desire     I am flinging your words and if you absorb not blot my song you could learn you are not alone in pain and grief though you’ve instilled pain and grief     you can urge the dare and thrill of bliss if and when you stop to look at a rock at a fence post but you cough only look yes look at me now because you are blink about to leave—


The Shapes of Leaves

Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare

searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,

and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.

And I have traveled along the contours
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool,

I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.


Dawn Redwood

Early morning light: a young red-tailed hawk
glided onto an overhead branch and peered

down at me, but it did not look with your eyes—
a battered and rusted pickup lies in the wash;

Navajo tea buds on the trail—I headed back
and checked, in the boiler room, the traps,

baited with peanut butter—now a gnat
flits against this lit screen: where are you now?

One morning, we walked in a Rhode Island
cemetery and did not look at a single gravestone;

we looked at hundred-year-old copper beeches,
cells burnished purple, soaking up sunshine,

and talked about the dawn redwood,
how the glimmering light at the beginning

of the world was in all things. This morning,
in the predawn darkness, Orion angled

in the eastern sky with Sirius, low,
above the ridgeline; and, before daylight

blotted out the stars, I heard you speak,
the scratched words return to their sleeves.


Arthur Sze’s eleventh book of poetry is The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). His previous book, Sight Lines (Copper Canyon, 2019), received the (USA) National Book Award for Poetry. He is a professor emeritus at the Institute of American Indian Arts and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Photo: Rinuccia Marabotto