Day of No Name

We are on a slice of land
riding out into Lake Macbride, Iowa.

Poets, novelists, artists, people who try to make sense
of our lives, today we’ve left our writing gear behind;
we are simply men, women, the sun, the shadows linking our hands.

Marc Nieson, nature’s acolyte, is reading the limestone shelves
for clues to where we go when we die. He scans
the cliff-edge, the treeline like a vellum of arcane script,
the light ricocheting off the rocks like meaning.
This year he is going to retreat into himself
and learn the names of trees. He will befriend
the silences and meditate on the one bald eagle
circling, catching the fire in the skies of his mind.

Perched on a rock-lip are my poet-friends.
Amir from Israel wants to convert God
to the body’s religion; sometimes his voice commands
the god who has spent too much time out in the desert
to say amen to the loneliness of bodies locked in lust
and strife. With him is Helena from the deep north of Finland.
Her poems travel far down into the earth to reach
the sun on the other side of night. To find her
you’d have to unwrap the images like boxes within boxes,
till you reach nothingness, or a stone storied
as the one I am holding now, veined with intimations
you can feel but not explain.

That man is trying to release the winter
in that woman’s dream; he wants to hear
the brooks running, the dance of summer in her leaves.

Behind us Seona from Fiji is angling
with her camera to bait the sunlit moments
into the dark plate of her memory.
I think she will succeed.

Choi, from Korea, is afraid of happiness.
She does not want to touch the word that will set her
free. Sue from Australia is on a parallel trail,
wondering what she is searching for. Win from Burma,
Lyonel from Haiti, they are there,
measuring the time with cigarettes
at the edge of the woods. I feel
the sunlight make peace in their hearts
in these Macbride woods.

I am here on a limestone ledge, wanting to bless
them. On my tongue are the sweet names: aspen,
aster, sumac, prairie grass, friends Marc introduced
this morning. Out on the lake a lone boat is transfigured
in a broad belt of smashed sun, constellations all reflected
in the single instant of our being here. The words
of my friends, the distances in their stillness, the miles
between their births and deaths, they are here. I feel
a door opening on the edge of our lives. If I shout
for them, they will not hear; the door will thud
shut. Like a buddha of helpless compassion, I turn
from the portal back to earth.

To name this moment, what this poem fails
to name, I’d have to find a word embracing
these words: sun, water, rock, trees,
Marc, Helena, Amir, Choi, Win . . .
and behind them the void
shining, hurtless.

by Boey Kim Cheng
from Days of No Name (1996)


SELECTED POEMS: "Plum Blossom or Quong Tart at the QVB" >