To be shallow and insufficient is perverse; to be deep and go too far is malicious.
(The Wondrous Discourse of Su Nü)
As a dragon roused from hibernation,
mounting to the clouds—is the way the ancients
ask us to encounter one another—
yet, what can we make of this doppelgänger
so removed from the damp-faced woman
learning to think in the first-person-plural
thumbing wedding planners at Waterstones,
and a shelf and twenty years apart another,
with the eternally icy fingertips weighing prospects
in self-help psychology? What can we make of—
tap the jade stalk on the mysterious feminine, carry out
the method for eight deep and six shallow—
as if being human is a long-forgetting,
having to endlessly re-teach
the body, the heart’s instinct&mdash
How could there be pleasures much keener
than this—jade hammer tapping the yin door, nine
shallow and five deep? Him receiving her
flood, gathering all her spirit, yet like a heavy
sluice falling to withholds his; they say it
too is resurrection—for the hundred ills to vanish
in his being, for hunger to be banished in hers.
Split apart to their own separate selves,
they may wonder if there is one given way,
if sometimes receiving is in renunciation.
How to negotiate the wrong thing becoming
the right thing, how to know when and how
or how much—as when the monkey clings unsteadily
to a branch to pluck the highest succulent fruit,
yet withholds from its nourishment,
because he is too full of possessing it.
This union, that feels more like abandonment—
as when a gold flame fused to the branch
is rapt on consuming the thing it brightens—
the jade sceptre knocks at her red pearl
seven deep and eight shallow until the red ball
opens wide in her and the clear call in her voice
is a kaon; the heart of the burning
turning molten while the skin is already ashening—
as when a body opens in sex without love
yet somewhere in it, the unheard elegy of love
without sex, that prize the cicada conceals
within, and is unable to spew forth.
Among the barnacle, crab, sea anemone, she is stormless
on her back, legs up past her breasts and open
to receive some vast intimacy,
when up from the deep graveyard of lost anchors,
the turtle [the emperor of shallows and depths] comes
with his sudden retracting, sudden extending
like loving her and hating her a little for it,
like homing in for all the wrong reasons,
like aftersight and foresight emerging long after
the puzzlement of now.
Look, in the corner, the coracle of the shell;
the shelter from which one could not emerge
and confess to the beloved, ‘I too am this’—perhaps
something profound or superficial, corrupt
or beautiful. Now, some fury has unleashed far out at sea,
and the shell has washed up like a truce
that’s arrived too late,
long after the sanctuary emptied little by little
from the whole. What remains is a circle, a kingdom
dragged in mud with a short stubby tail,
as if drawn in a childish hand.
Something is ripe for shaping. Nine shallow and eight deep.
Two bodies of different substance made a home
in conflagration. Let’s forget the poetry of it—
of the phoenix beating its wings undefeated—
it sways, but cannot rise. How can it, in a primal forest
rancid with smoke? Its blind instinct is yellow-eyed and
reptilian. There’s no decorum of departure, the heart’s fruit dying
on the vine—soon kindling, the vexed feathered mind soaring.
The moon grabs the sea like a cloak
drags it behind,
the night returns blind to the house.
Lift up, lift up she can speak here.
She doesn’t have to be picturesque and silent—
improv and frolic; the joy
of a jade rabbit leaping on the lee
of his body, appearing, disappearing
capricious but still, a kind of merry friendship,
friendship—not a kind of choice—
a habit, at first, undamaged, then a form of faith,
finally, all we have is its skim, long overdue—
all you can muster in a chastened or bolting
heart is friendship that hangs on
for dear life.
Stand and brush each other off. Look
the moon and the rabbit—still there.
They keep the last-ditch world safe.
And not grudgingly.
A story depends on the one who narrates it.
Here’s what it’s like when the remedy
for consuming the pure and exorcising the coarse is;
two feminine gates pressed together,
their mouths wide open like a fish
nibbling duckweed, he, dipping
above and below as he pleases, until the red
tide rises, until all three are transfigured
in another pattern. But see how she vanishes
flowering and unflowering, singular, intimate
and unidentifiable—then, is she one or two?
—by day, Madonna, the nightly whore whose prayer
has something to do with shame.
Kasturi Mrugam 11
Reading James Merrill at Curwen Woods 14
Worry Doll 20
Variation on the Fact of Spring: One for Sorrow Two for Joy 35
II from Nine [Miscarried] Methods 48
Spiegel im Spiegel 56
Bend in the River 63
Variations on the Fact of Spring 69
The Great Pause 80
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