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Architectures of Emptiness
Yogis call these buoyed minutes 
the moment of the universe, and who knows
if spruce, aspen, and a golden rain tree 
converse, like mycelium, through roots? 
As pink limns the black ridgeline, you hear
a ruby-crowned kinglet but can’t see 
if it is nestled in a fir or alligator juniper;
will another summer of crackling fires stench the air?
Will tent caterpillars infest the cottonwood?
Will an orange sunrise sting your eyes, 
as helicopters dump liquid fertilizer 
onto thousands of acres of burning conifers?
An architect dynamites rock to create 
a skylight for a cliffside dwelling that, 
below ground, has three rock walls 
and one glassed-in side—though we come
and go like streamers of yellowing forsythia—
that looks toward sunrise over a white-capping sea. 

Clearing twigs and branches, shoveling silt, 
—one monk scrapes 
a knuckle through sand, 
we chop willow shoots rising out of the acequia; 
makes a gray X; 
then another, 

on a post, a spotted towhee rotates its head,
holding a paintbrush, 
sweeps the colored sands 

sideways, up, down, before flying off;
from perimeter to center; 
another collects them
I pause at these minute shifts—
in an urn; 
then they disperse the sands
in the predawn dark, I am infinitesimal
on flowing water, laying out, 
in minute detail
gazing up at Deneb but brighten as the sky
the palace and ephemerality 
of all endeavors:
brightens and see our lives unfurl: 
what is stilled, flows, 
what is destroyed, liberates— 

For each holder of water rights, 
days and times start 
at the lowest elevation 
then move upstream 
toward the reservoir. 
On the first day, water 
soaks the length 
of the ditch and clears silt; 
soon sedge, wax currant, 
thinleaf alder sprout. 
We divert water into downhill 
pipes that run to driplines 
and rotating sprinklers: 
sprigs of apricots flower; 
catkins burst; I pace 
our length, clear debris, 
scan for Cyanic milkvetch, 
Tufted sand verbena, 
Springer’s blazing star. 
We have that western 
wheatgrass, this wire rush, 
and scratch—match 
to flame—a path of 
devotion into empty space. 

Mark the shadows of aspen leaves 
rippling on grass; beneath a veil 
of white bark, aspens have a photosynthetic
layer that absorbs sunlight
through winter; a magpie sails 
across a yard, flutters wing feathers, 
and, landing on spruce, squawks— 
it speaks to you; thinleaf alder
shoots rising out of the ditch speak; 
you stand in a tree pose: inhale, 
exhale, inhale, exhale: water 
is to emptiness as sun is to language;
you sluice into the infinite tangle 
of beginnings and ends: cottonwood 
seeds swirl in the air; a wild 
apricot blooms by the ditch; suddenly
each aspen leaf on a tree is a word, 
the movement of leaves their syntax: 
burns      diamond light      diffuse      it 
so      we      green      green, 
diamond       light      burns      so    we 
diffuse     it      into      greening— 

suddenly you parse the leaves, 
and they are speaking to you now: 


This poem appears in our fall 2023 issue, Conjunctions:81, Numina: The Enchantment Issue.

Arthur Sze recieved the 2021 Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. His newest book is The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon).