The empty, almost weightless, onionated brain.
Planet-on-a-branch. The first lantern to glow in space
when Wang Bo thought, I’ll look a little closer
I’ll lift this flame inside.
His footsteps. His panting. His words
of announcement: how beautiful, how useful.
Not knowing what to say. Not knowing which would please
his boss. The distinct possibility of execution.
Thirteen months of his life already lost watching.
The secretions. The daily layer. The idea of doing it
himself. But who would believe such a thing?
To build a house out of paper and then abandon it.
ON A BANQUET WITH MY FRIENDS ON AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON AT THE EDGE OF A LAKE
Happy the sad friends who look into the bright water
as into a dirty mirror:
they do not see themselves
and all is well.
The fish go slipping by. They seem to leave their scales
upon the water.
I say there is a word for it
and it is not shimmer.
We argue over this.
We cut the trout, wrinkled and gold.
We cut the cheese, wrinkled and yellow.
We finish the bottle.
The light pours down on our faces,
on the crumbs at the end of our lips.
Shen Fu was a conspicuous failure—
who could argue?—yet once he saw
how rare the world is,
he ceased to live in vain.
THE BUTCHER’S STORY
When I was a boy
a young man from our village
was missing for three days.
My father, my uncle and I
went looking for him in a cart
drawn by our horse, Samuel.
We went deep into the swamp
where we found three petrified trees,
gigantic and glorious. From them
we make beautiful cabinets,
polished like glass.
Anything above a primer would split my head today.
In the catalogue, two women in a field are wearing
two colors called appaloosa and wild potato, and seem to be
relaxed, waiting for a monsoon, and when I turn the page
it is raining and they are in a room, apparently without
furniture, having changed into whirlpool and minnow.
The room bothers me. I try to imagine a lawn without grass.
The women seem happy enough, not quite the happiness
of saints, but still—they deserve some credit.
I wonder if they are at that point in their lives when everyone
starts to say I love you whenever they say goodbye?
I wonder if they live up to their reputation of being
each other’s best friend?
One of them gives me a look which says she’s too young
to know what I mean. The other one gives me a look
I can only describe as assuming I have no valves in my heart.
I try to remain reasonable. After all, I’m anxious to get
to know them. But later on, after the rain has stopped, after
we are on some kind of balcony overlooking a chateau,
wearing chalice and gossamer, I can see that it’s useless.
I’m not expected to choose between them. I’m supposed to want
them both. I’m expected to want a change of air in paradise
and a change of angels, too. Someone has invented happiness.
I’m not expected to be bored. That’s why they look at me
with disbelief. That’s why I love their feet.
The empty grocery cart is beginning to roll
across the empty parking lot. It’s beginning to act
like Marlon Brando might if no one were watching.
It’s a joyous sight, but it might not end all that
happily, the way someone light in the head
does something charming and winds up dead.
My thoughts are so heavy, you couldn’t lift
the bier. They are so light and stray so far
someone in a uniform wants to bring them in.
The world might be in agony, but I don’t think so.
Somewhere a woman is swathed in black veils
and smiling too. It might be the eve of her baptism,
the day after her son hit a pole.
How can she signal her acceptance of life?
What if a hummingbird enters her mouth? I hate
the thought, whizzing by in red clothes.
Yet I admire its gloves. Hands are unbearably beautiful.
They hold on to things. They let things go.
all from Mary Ruefle’s Cold Pluto (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1996)