Poetry / March 2015 (Issue 27)

Su Sung's Heavenly Clockwork

by Stephen Cloud

Nephew, you never saw it nor will its like appear again on this earth, the
         wonders I saw in my lifetime having vanished;
so now I must tell of the Heavenly Clockwork built by my friend Su Sung,
         himself long dead.
When our Emperor, Son of Heaven, learned the barbarians of the northlands
         possessed a calendar more exact than his, he fined and punished the
then called upon Su Sung to design a clock more accurate, more beautiful than
         any seen or known before.
Imagine a five-platform pagoda, a bronze armillary sphere, a spinning globe,
         bells, gongs, splashing water, creaking wheels, marching figurines.
I can see it still: on the bell-and-drum floor of the belfry ninety-six jacks tolled
         the quarters: green jacks at dusk, red jacks at dawn.

Thus did Su Sung’s wondrous art interpret the will of heaven.

“Heavens move without ceasing,” Su Sung told me, “and thus will the clock’s
         water flow, pouring evenly,
the rotation of heavens and machine meshing almost perfectly, only the
         slightest flaw to thwart hubris and account for retrograde truths.”

Thirteen years Su Sung laboured on his clockwork; bell-ringing jacks and water
         wheels marked passage of four more; then the Son of Heaven died.
To secure his domain, our new Emperor declared all calendars faulty and
         ordered new clockworks to keep the imperial year.
We no longer saw Su Sung’s face in court; his clockwork became a quarry for
Nephew, nothing endures for long in this changeable world. Time is a rushing river,
         and all things succumb to its powerful flow.
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