Jenny Wu, Emory University
I. THE MAN IN THE LAKE
You said you wanted
_____to open your eyes
_____“where the people live.”
__________—This is how you fall asleep,
I suppose, or not,
_____having counted all the exits
__________and decided, No,
I will stay here.
_____Another is to take
__________a walk through the woods.
You have the gift of clairvoyance,
_____a book of poems for the dead.
__________Tonight: Catullus V.
What I thought was a shadow
_____attacked me and swallowed me
__________in its leafiness.
Where there is space
_____there are recurring paths
__________confounding the idea of space.
There are forms that weigh
_____as much as a handful of dark blue grapes
__________but cannot be weighed.
—It’s not that I see the Ogre,
_____or hear him
dragging his scrotum across the floor.
_____Your idea of running away
__________didn’t get you farther than the state line.
Suddenly there you were,
_____sitting on my bag next to the
__________octagonal skating rink
with the white Christmas lights,
_____eating my sandwich
__________with a bandage on your hand.
In every memory we crouch on the shore
_____of Lake Michigan,
__________lighting Turkish cigarettes.
It hurts to breathe in smoke
_____but the lake is on fire.
II. THE CUTTING OF THE LOGS
Yelling after the invisible gardeners,
_____“Give me back my leaves! My
Strophe of air, stumps of trees,
__________In time we’ll become
those two white horses,
_____two long faces, dapper and dumb.
__________In time I’ll drink the rain
from the bottom of a boat,
_____my hands clutching pine needles
__________as the leaves fall
onto my autumn wool
__________I open my eyes underwater
and marvel at the denizens of the pond,
_____murky and green,
I am the worm,
_____I am the worm,
neither fish nor frog,
_____the connoisseur of mud and lumps,
__________where I found the princess of rue
banished in her shadows. They fell over her like skins
__________I wrote a song for mine
who creeps into the boughs
_____and gets closer to the blooming chrysanthemum
__________than I ever could.
I cannot fall into the folds of the petals.
_____I cannot disappear beneath the sheets
__________without my shoes giving me away.
For me a vision of Sītā, woman on the folded page,
_____opened miraculously, giving very little.
__________Vision of Nirṛti,
something-power, something hair of flaming gold,
_____“Pours the Ganges on Viṣṇu’s foot.”
__________Aye, why make rivers when nothing floats?
—Our arms and legs are necessary.
_____So are curses, ecstasies, words with
These are mankind’s showpieces,
_____mankind the artist,
__________politely removing his hat in death’s antechamber.
The moon rose
_____during the day
__________and hung there.
All this light—even from only
_____half a moon!
__________Too often I have trampled
over the half-roots,
_____half-running from the land of Nod,
__________here meaning, Cain’s punishment,
_____as a joke
__________meaning sleep, for one nods off.
Last night rain slapped against the broken tiles,
_____like a crowd of immigrants eager to cross
__________into the country of sound—
their bodies become sound. And so it is.
_____I will wait for your word.
__________But I will begin by searching
through all my pockets.
_____There is something. There is something
__________on the list of food to buy,
before the tomatoes.
_____—Tell me: the things I live for
__________have nothing to do with life.
Shall we play?
_____Shall we battle against the odds?
III. STILL LIFE WITH ABSENT OR IMAGINED OBJECTS
People die, and,
_____as far as we know,
__________they do not come back.
Somebody mastered the mermaid song,
_____made sure the painting was on straight,
and was first to sense the new death.
_____Somebody rinsed the stucco,
__________made sure the calls were returned,
_____and was first to sense the new death.
__________A door slams,
and in the fog,
_____a straw hat is floating,
This is the Rook.
_____It may cross the King,
__________castling long, O-O-O.
This game! Glacial,
_____here meaning, not cold,
Like darkness descending,
_____like a debate about metal-
the essentialism of unlikely
__________You leaned closer to me.
You were a lonely stucco churchwall
__________I thought, Who dares
dance on my grave,
_____and will they waltz?
__________Sing to me?
A silent dance is the saddest of all.
_____Sometimes what we think is dancing
__________is not at all.
It is a game of chess
_____played with imaginary pieces so why not blood?
I have asked it
_____to stop for a moment,
__________and it can.
We can eat not from skulls
_____but from seashells,
__________not from seashells
but from smooth pebbles,
_____not from pebbles
__________but from the surface of water itself.
The master of the house
And points at the floor he swept:
__________This is good!
_______________This is very good!”
Winter picks its bones clean.
__________I felt its forms pound directly on my back
and thought that the walls would break.
__________I carved with a knife
the symbols of falsity and vainglory
_____and forgot who carved them on my door.
__________You said, Begin the war,
but let the war confuse you.
_____Run headless through the war.
__________Let the ocean’s warm breath
deliver more than the day’s blood,
_____more than enough for life
__________and this procession of ashes
we call life.
_____You went to see the god of death
__________and he said,
Come ride in my chariot. I will show you
_____The farmers carving boats for the flood.
IV. THE ANSWER
A man carried a light
_____down every wrong street,
who will not come back.
__________“Why is your hair so long?
What were you trying to show me
_____in the mews of Cannstatt?
__________What was beneath
the bandage on your hand?
_____My friend! My Hell!”
__________Hell fades longingly into the white.
What was that thing before it started burning?
_____Ask the fire and the fire shall giveth.
__________I read Catullus to the graves
and listened for your exit.
_____I wanted to show you
__________the pleated lungs
of a dying crab.
_____I wanted to show you
__________a forked road that didn’t divide the body in two.
—If I carried a light for you
_____and you asked me to wear a blindfold.
__________If I carried a light for you,
and you asked me to swallow your secret.
_____If ever I carried a light—
__________your pyre, your path—
We are only pushing the dead forward.
V. FIRE ON DRIFTWOOD
This is the lake.
_____This is the moon’s dead image.
__________This is the white foam of love.
I never said
_____that the body was free.
__________I only said it stood alone,
and chased away shadows alone.
_____How many shadows in a day?
__________You got bored
and invented rules like
_____The ground is lava.
__________The water is poison.
Time exists or does not exist—
_____it doesn’t matter.
__________The Age of Enlightenment
_____But someone forgets
__________and winds up a metal bird.
What secret was whispered and how far will it travel?
_____The night is the catcher.
__________The moon is the keel.
Now that all the butt-ends have blown on their way,
_____bitten down to firmament and firmament gray,
__________I’ve come to say yes!
I’ve come to say yes!
_____I’ve come to proclaim for my true-self:
__________I am the rivers that call forth my name.
I am the child of the opium-eaters.
_____And yes, we were ripped apart, he and I,
__________limp lionthings in the deserts of Africa,
where we sat in the sand
_____as careless of each other
And now the fever
_____with its one thousand ordinances
__________reads on through the night.
I don’t love books.
_____I don’t love anything
__________smaller than a bed.
—We paid the savant two-pence to play Holst.
_____—Egret! I said.
__________Come back and tell me winter isn’t
Jenny Wu is an undergraduate at Emory University whose poetry can be found in Word For/Word, dislocate, SOFTBLOW, storySouth, Mangrove, Catfish Creek, Polaris, and The Asian American Literary Review.