Poetry / February 2008 (Issue 2)

Three Poems

by Alvin Pang


At 9 he planted a clutch of seed blooms, carefully observed their daily frenzy.

At 22 he began recording the story of the river which ran behind his house, down from the foothills of a nearby mountain and on to the distant ocean. It told him everything he asked of it, and more, eagerly and without pause, until the winter months, when it finally withdrew, spent and drymouthed, to the mountains to sleep.

He would write down all that he had heard, in long cursive script that meandered across the page.

He had time and was alone, and the fire was well-fed with wood from the surrounding forests, whose tale he also recorded, when he was 30.

At 46 he started a biography of the wind, who'd often peek his shoulder while he worked by the water's edge; not until he was 54 did he catch her often enough to probe and grasp her deeper impulses.

By the time he turned 63 he was ready to begin his memoirs. It was of course going to be his most difficult work. People lived so fiercely, he remarked once, often as if they could cease to be at any moment, and at other times, as if they were going to be around forever.

No one knows what happened to the final manuscript. Critics who had seen his work in progress described it as a chronicle of history through the eyes of the forgotten. By now he had many imitators as well as detractors, many of whom were once admirers who gave up waiting for him to complete each work.

Years after his death at the age of 110, someone at long last recognised his true magnum opus: a carefully pruned pattern of ash, dew, footsteps and flowering trees in the shape of a single haiku, imprinted on the land where he used to live, and visible only from the heavens.

Five dreams
"One asks oneself this simple question 'What does that mean'? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable." -Rene Magritte

In the first dream, a face furrowed and awash
in blood, foreground blending into background,
the entire canvas pulsing. Beyond the frame
a man who does not know he is a father
mumbles forgotten verses in his sleep.

A second dream. The Himalayan reaches,
the cry of a deserted eagle circling and circling
overhead while a woman unlatches her kimono
on a bed of straw, next to a bowl of yak's milk.

A street lined with the ancient carcasses of cars,
over the tops of which couples clamber, laughing.
Pages in an unknown script rain slowly down.

One day for every cherry blossom
kept in the silk purse of your open palm.

Waking, she finds a fifth dream smiling and stroking her hair.


"I would like to write a poem about a pencil in love with music" - Charles Simic

In pencil I would write with a music like a poem about to love,
a woman who sees in elephants the image of her first heartbreak,
ten thousand tadpoles screaming for democracy in a garden puddle.
Begonias craving organ-pipes spark a fashion trend in ochre.
Biographies of saints assaulting creationists with fossil relics.
With chalk set a dance for playwrights in the outback, loincloths provided.
Fashion from crayon a sonata with grudges against cuisine, committing
hate crimes on seafood with clefs and staffs; a motif of knives,
a cacophony of spatulas.  Photograph the pianist on stage
sitting down to a feast of black scarabs in white bone sauce,
on his left, a wine made from the severed lips of editors, the audience
wildly applauding, completely naked apart from bibs and spoons.
Of all the novels I hunger to write, the one where the body text
rises up and slaughters the printers, takes over the machines
in a frenzy of reproduction, declares a fundamentalist religion.
The pen I'd use might sweat ink, turn red, corroborate.
Threaten me quietly at ballpoint. Ask me if I believe God is the Word.
Illiteracy is Heresy. As things go bad, the music slips me a note
for the pencil, apologising for her muteness, urging him to find something else
to write about. The food. The scenery. The sonnet in the corner
trying with all her heart to catch his eye.

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ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.