New Ice

Poetry

Inscribed stone statue of Li Bing dredged from the Dujiangyan, Min River, in March 1974. Granite, 2.9 meters tall, and weighing 4 tons. According to the inscription, it was carved in the first year of the Jianning era, thus 168 CE. Collection of the Sichuan Museum, Chengdu.

November 29

Xīnbīng


新冰

New Ice


Two bulls lock horns

their breath forging a white cloud

that holds them.


Each bull claimed to be the spirit

of something other than itself,

one a river,

the other a human.


A few flies drink from their eyes.

Beyond them the levees,

a half-built weir,

a foreign promise,

a tyranny built stone by stone.


What wedding is this

on the banks above?

The tables scattered with winter’s flowers,

casks of wine, honey-scented cakes.

The guests silent as snow.

The two brides silent.


Ice, who had offered his daughters

to the patterns of water,

waited for the god.

He waited as a human,

belligerent, deceitful,

blinded by desire.


He couldn’t see

the god had already arrived,

thin and delicate, holding moonlight

to the river’s edge.


The god hoped Ice would recognize him

if he came in the form of ice. The god

had brought a gift, the gift of seeing

how one’s own heart holds light,

how that same light can cut stone,

how the heart’s river overflows.


But Ice couldn’t see the god

let alone comprehend such a gift.

Few are trained to see a god—

the snowflakes, the vaporous breath,

the thin brocade at the river’s edge.


Ice could see struggle

and so that is what he saw.

The white cloud of the bulls’ breath spread

over the river, and from within it

the guests heard a heartbeat

like a chisel against stone.

Fog held the wedding and then lifted.


In the middle of the river

stood a statue of Ice

carved from black stone.


Unaware his daughters were gone

Ice stood looking at himself in wonder.

Paleographers making a rubbing of the inscription on this statue.


Constellations of Humanity

Each luminous dot on this map represents one reader of this poem. As the number of readers increases, the stars begin to cluster and form an increasingly detailed constellation. My intent is to show how brightly a poem glows across our world. I welcome your light.

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