Arthur Sze



In your honor, a man presents a sea bass tied to a black-lacquered dish by green-spun seaweed. "Ah” is heard throughout the room: you are unsure what is about to happen. You might look through a telescope at the full bright moon against deep black space, see from the Bay of Dew to the Sea of Nectar, but, no, this beauty of naming is a subterfuge. What are the thoughts of hunters driving home on a Sunday afternoon empty-handed? Their conception of honor may coincide with your conception of cruelty? The slant of light as sun declines is a knife separating will and act into infinitely thin and lucid slices. You look at the sea bass’s eye, clear and luminous. The gills appear to move ever so slightly. The sea bass smells of dream, but this is no dream. “Ah, such delicacy” is heard throughout the room, and the sea bass suddenly flaps. It bleeds and flaps, bleeds and flaps as the host slices slice after slice of glistening sashimi.

The Great White Shark

For days he has dumped a trail of tuna blood into the ocean so that a great white shark might be lured, so that we might touch its fin. The power of the primitive is parallactic: in a museum exhibit, a chacmool appears as elegant and sophisticated sculpture, as art, but witness the priest rip the still-beating heart out of the blue victim’s body and place it pulsing on a chacmool and we are ready to vomit. We think the use of a beryllium gyroscope marks technological superiority, but the urge of ideologies then and now makes revenge inexorable. The urge to skydive, rappel, white-water kayak is the urge to release, the urge to die. Diamond and graphite may be allotropic forms of carbon, but what are the allotropic forms of ritual and desire? The moon shining on black water, yellow forsythia blossoming in the April night, red maple leaves dropping in silence in October: the seasons are not yet human forms of desire.


Someone flips a lit match off the road near a cluster of cattails, takes another swig of beer, presses on the gas; the match is not specifically aimed at you: you just happen to be there-- at a stop sign, in a parking lot, on a ferry, at a terminal; as a lens narrows sunlight to a point which blackens into flame, go ahead, zero in, try to x out a ball of jasmine sprig that unfurls in boiling water, x out a red-tailed hawk shifting on a cottonwood branch at dusk, x out coyotes yipping as they roam by new moonlight up the road, x out the dissolving suture threads in your mouth, x out a dog’s bark, a baby magpie fallen from a nest wandering on gravel, x out a flicker feather in the mud; you can’t x out diarrhea, x out a barn erupted into flames, x out firefighters lined up in trucks along Russian olives, x out the charred grass and stubs of fence posts, x out a pang, place of birth or time of death, x out, at an intersection of abscissa and ordinate, dark matter that warps space and time; you can’t x out a cloud, so make a lens of it the next time you chop cilantro at a counter, the next time you push through a turnstile.


I notice headlights out the living room window then catch the bass in a pickup as it drives by. I am shocked to learn that doctors collected the urine of menopausal nuns in Italy to extract gonadotropins. And is that what one draws, in infinitesimal dose, out of a vial? I remember a steel wool splinter in my finger and how difficult it was to discern, extract under a magnifying glass; yet—blue mold, apple dropping from branch—it is hard to see up close when, at the periphery, the unexpected easily catches the eye. Last Thursday night, we looked through binoculars at the full moon, watched it darken and darken until, eclipsed, it glowed ferrous-red. By firelight, we glowed; my fingertips flared when I rubbed your shoulders, softly bit your ear. The mind is a tuning fork that we strike, and, struck, in the syzygy of a moment, we find the skewed, tangled passions of a day begin to straighten, align, hum.

Looking Back on the Muckleshoot Reservation from Galisteo Street, Santa Fe

The bow of a Muckleshoot canoe, blessed with eagle feather and sprig of yellow cedar, is launched into a bay. A girl watches her mother fry venison slabs on a skillet— drops of blood sizzle, evaporate. Because a neighbor feeds them, they eat wordlessly; the silence breaks when she occasionally gags, reaches into her throat, pulls out hair. Gone is the father, riled, arguing with his boss, who drove to the shooting range after work; gone the accountant who embezzled funds, displayed a pickup, and proclaimed a winning flush at the casino. You donate chicken soup and clothes but never learn if they arrive at the south end of the city. Your small acts are sandpiper tracks in wet sand. Newspapers, plastic containers, beer bottles fill the bins along this sloping one-way street.

Pig’s Heaven Inn

Red chiles in a tilted basket catch sunlight— we walk past a pile of burning mulberry leaves into Xidi village, enter a courtyard, notice an inkstone, engraved with calligraphy, filled with water and cassia petals, smell Ming dynasty redwood panels. As a musician lifts a small xun to his mouth and blows, I see kiwis hanging from branches above a moon doorway: a grandmother, once the youngest concubine, propped in a chair with bandages around her knees, complains of incessant pain; someone spits in the street. As a second musician plucks strings on a zither, pomelos blacken on branches; a woman peels chestnuts; two men in a flat-bottomed boat gather duckweed out of a river. The notes splash, silvery, onto cobblestone, and my fingers suddenly ache: during the Cultural Revolution, my aunt’s husband leapt out of a third-story window; at dawn I mistook the cries of birds for rain. When the musicians pause, Yellow Mountain pines sway near Bright Summit Peak; a pig scuffles behind an enclosure; someone blows their nose. Traces of the past are wisps of mulberry smoke rising above roof tiles; and before we too vanish, we hike to where three trails converge: hundreds of people are stopped ahead of us, hundreds come up behind: we form a rivulet of people funneling down through a chasm in the granite.