Conjunctions:70 Sanctuary: The Preservation Issue

The Open Water

Peaches redden on branches; in the dark,
I drop the irrigation gate—each month

a woman crosses Havana Bay and, looking

at the open water, reclaims her mother—
I cannot see the bloodred strawberries

in the garden; at a flaking green tank,

I listen: yellow light shines at a neighbor’s
octagonal window; Orion dims as the sky lightens—

what am I but a wandering speck

rambling, smudging, stumbling, writing—
someone opens a car door and steals quarters—

across the valley, two lights flicker from houses;

standing before a sharp descent, I look
at a waxing moon—the Big Bang’s

always present—I latch a green metal

gate near the empty stable and smell
your neck as you turn in your sleep;

daylight reaches the porch post columns;

I open a glass door and sit at a table;
now no words: light pools onto the wood floor.
A black butterfly opens its wings—

sitting in a bus on a metal seat, he notices the steel above the driver has corroded,
     and pinpricks of daylight stream through—

two destroyers moored offshore—

on a scaffold, he uses a roller and paints the building marine blue—

a mime in a silver top hat, silver jacket—hands and face, silvered—inches
     through a restaurant—

standing in the shade looking up into the branches and leaves of a
     thorned ceiba tree—

a street sweeper emigrates and founds a chain of restaurants—

two men push pig carcasses on a cart through the doorway—

a singer shaking maracas sways to the music—
Russian sage scents the air—

          the aroma of flickering candles
          on the fireplace mantel—

that I am even here standing on a ridge looking at Venus low in the sky—

          a black bear overturns a dumpster in the garage
          and eats remnants
                                        of a chicken enchilada—

                              soldiers move through the airport with dogs on leashes—

                    I rub oil on your breasts—

          in Old Delhi, uncovered bins with saffron, cardamom,
                                        ginger, turmeric—

          a poster warns of an imminent terrorist attack—

                              I jot things down so that when I lose them in the darkness
                              I may recover them quickly with the dawn—

                              dancers emerge wearing Yoruba masks—

                    I taste the salt on your neck—

that the rivers of the world flow into the seas—

that I am alive and hear rotating sprinklers jet water onto the grass—

                    that we go through the day humming in our bodies—

Russian sage emerges out of darkness—

                            In August sunlight, basil plants go to seed—
                            a mime dressed as a construction worker

                            with gold skin, gold goggles, helmet,
                            and sledgehammer stands on the shady

                            side of a cobbled street; when you drop
                            some cash in the box, he smiles and bows—

                            a woman gives you a book of poetry;
                            when you read la pobreza del lugar,

                            you bristle: no place is impoverished
                            if the mind sparks; if not, the dunes

                            of a Sahara have no end; the sun sets,
                            and a cooling range is under the stars—

                            when the mind seeds, a camel emerges
                            out of a dune and you ride it to an oasis,

                            where you imbibe ayahuasca: up all night,
                            when the man leading the vigil puts on

                            a jaguar mask and becomes a jaguar,
                            you raise your hands, and they spark butterflies.
A singer shaking maracas sways to the music—

in the street, a black man pushing a cart with strings of onions dangling
     from the frame sings, “Onions for sale”—

a girl with silvered face and hands, blouse and skirt, holds a silver
     bouquet of flowers—

a purple 1953 Chevy with polished chrome parked alongside an azure

in the yard, a flowering boojum tree—

his mother’s father was the owner of a sugar plantation and disinherited
          his mother after she married a mulatto street sweeper—

sitting in the oven of a bus—

a mime dressed as a deep-sea diver, helmet in hand, inches up the stairs—

a black butterfly closes its wings—
                   Clusters of conical thorns on the tree trunk—
                   I recall screech owls perched on a post
                   protected from sunlight by wisteria leaves,
                   the hush in the courtyard during a snowfall,
                   cinders from a forest fire alighting on
                   the roof, and how winter starlight shifted
                   to summer sunshine within a single day.

                   In the eyehook between shelves, I see

                   the upright primary wing feather of an eagle,
                   the red and orange bougainvilleas,
                   entwined, rising from a pot pressing

                   against the ceiling and against glass doors;
                   twice I stepped on lye-softened floorboards
                   and caught splinters. Now I mark presence
                   in absence and absence in presence:

                   as a May snow landing on a walkway
                   dissolves as it lands, as surf rises

                   and sweeps across the plazas and boulevards.

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).