“My place as a poet is to practice with all of my attention”

Poems

SIX PERSIMMONS

for Noko

after ruining another season’s harvest –
over-baked in the kitchen oven then
rehydrated in her home sauna
Aunt Yuki calls upon her sister,

paper sacks stuffed full of orange
fruit, twig and stalk still intact
knows that my mother sprouts seedlings
from cast off avocado stones, revives

dead succulents, coaxes blooms out of orchids
a woman who has never spent a second
of her being on the world wide web,
passes her days painting the diversity of

marshland, woodland, & shoreline;
building her own dehydrator fashioned from
my father’s work ladders, joined together
by discarded swimming pool pole perched

high to discourage the neighbor’s cats
that invade the yard scavenging for koi
“Vitamin D” she says, as she harnesses
the sun, in the backyard the drying device

mutates into painting, slow dripped
sugar spilling out of one kaki fruit
empty space where my father untethers
another persimmon, he swallows whole


HEYDAY

during the logging boom, loss
& gain, the old growth forests —

Pacific red cedar, & fir felled
to create a city’s earliest trade;
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀t i m b e r

woodlands clear cut

with logs rolled, skidded
down roads to arrive

at a new understory,
what a sampling of sylvae
say about the now:
memory a series of concentric rings;
one thousand acres to be brought

into active trust — the city of tree
stewards recover a watershed,

cultivate urban vegetation,
extend the forest canopy

to change the temperature


NUMBER 14

interlaced lines of
black, silver, and white

moonlight woven
dense as tree branches

the primordial visual
field on Long Island

Sound, seashells washed
up on the seashore,

reordered by tides
no man before

Pollock to turn
a gaze downwards,

gardening pictures,
rooting contact,

glimpses of white
show through canvas,

light falling through
slats in a barn roof,

patterns tesselate,
reiterate and repeat

a fractal dimension
hurled dripped flung

and come full circle to
galaxy and coastline,

you designed no
beginning, middle,

end, when
you said

I am nature.


EMBARKATION

butter lamp, incense stick, beeswax
votive, the occasion of poem, rites I enact

to set the world aglow with the light
of desire, the fire of the mind

adorned in the colors of the eight
temples, the caretakers of the wang yeh (gods)

march through the streets of the seaside town
the lone envoy bearing a square yoke, parades

the wooden boat through narrow lanes
until nightfall, when the barge is brought

to rest upon a bed of joss (paper)
earlier that night, men load the boat

with handwritten wishes, the misfortunes
and plague of my past year to be piloted

up to the heavens in a blast of fireworks
deafening the crowd that came to bear witness

to ceremony; we observe as each of us does
some of us bail out before a thing is done

to escape our ghosts; we watch it burn;
I can’t unsnarl the knot of unmet want,

so I sever it in heat, draw the cord into flame
to free myself from the clutch of haunting, to disembark

at the latitude of where I give up the ship


TIDAL

the ocean bulges towards the moon
as wine decanted in a chalice

flows over a rim; the coastal edge
a liquid boundary; the planet’s flood

tides guided by celestial mechanics;
in the moon, the rise and fall

of tidal surf, lunar phases pull
gravitational forces bring incoming

storm surges, orbital cycles of shedding
tsunami swells like scorched earth,

wash away corporeal traces of calcium,
sodium, phosphate, copper, and chloride

trappings, mineral and matter discharge


BAMIYAN

in the pink sandstone cliffs
of the Koh-e Baba Mountains,

spent rocket casings,
steel support rods &

shrapnel surround a pair
of yawning outlines

carved from rock, cave
murals coated in dust &

soot, a spray-painted phrase
from the sacred Koran:

the just replaces the unjust

assailed by artillery
& heavy cannon fire,

faces hacked off,
then dynamited under

Talib rule &
yet it remains: nothing

can’t be blown up


POEM

for Wolfgang Laib

a life
of collecting pollen
from hazelnut bushes
a life of gathering word-grains
to find all you have wanted
all you have waited to say

five
mountains
we cannot climb
hills we cannot touch
perhaps we are only here
to say house, bridge, or gate

a passage
to somewhere else
yellow molecules
spooned and sifted
from a jar filled with

sunlight
⠀⠀⠀⠀pouring
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀milk
⠀⠀⠀⠀over
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀stone
you are the energy
that breaks form
building wax houses
pressed from combs

a wax room
set upon a mountain
an offering of rice
nowhere everywhere
the songs of Shams


Shin Yu’s conversation with Douglas Cole

What inspired you to start writing poetry?

I was always very interested in language as the child of immigrant parents who spoke more than one language. I was exposed to poetry at an early age through my school teachers and loved the freedom and flexibility that was possible in poetic language vs. conventional prose. Over time, I came to think of poetry as a common language of symbols and images in which I hoped to communicate with my mother, who was a visual artist that didn’t learn English until her thirties. I was not bilingual in Taiwanese and I longed for an imaginative space where we could meet one another.

Which poets have influenced you? And what did you learn about the process and the forms of poetry from the poets you love?

Poets that have been important to me include Arthur Sze, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Peter Levitt, Frank O’Hara, and Lisa Gill. Studying the work of Sze and Gill revealed things to me about the power of writing in long sustained sequences. Their close attention to the natural world has also helped me to understand a relationship to place. Both poets live and work in New Mexico. Sze has an interest in science and mycology and Gill has an incredible book, Mortar & Pestle on healing botanical plants. Berssenbrugge and O’Hara both respond to visual art and artists in their work, as well as collaborating with other artists – something that has always been important to my own process and thinking. Whereas Sze has Buddhist sensibilities, Peter Levitt is a Buddhist priest who has translated Dogen and others. His poems are deeply informed by his deep attention and care for the world from a Buddhist worldview.


What would you say is the poet’s place in the world today?

I have a poetry podcast called Lyric World where I ask poets a variation of the same question. There are many different ways to answer this question. For me, right now, my place as a poet is to practice with all of my attention and to use my chosen art form to interrogate the world. There are sociopolitical elements of that attention and that practice calls upon all of my complex and intersectional identities.


SHIN YU PAI is a poet, essayist and visual artist. She is the author of several books of poetry, including Virga (Empty Bowl, 2021), ENSŌ (Entre Ríos Books, 2020), SIGHTINGS: SELECTED WORKS (2000-2005) (1913 Press, 2007), AUX ARCS (La Alameda, 2013), Adamantine (White Pine, 2010), and Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003). She served as the fourth poet laureate of the city of Redmond from 2015 to 2017 and has been an artist in residence for the Seattle Art Museum, Town Hall Seattle, and Pacific Science Center. In 2014, she was nominated for a Stranger Genius Award in Literature. She is a three-time fellow of MacDowell and has also been in residence at Taipei Artist Village, Soul Mountain, The Ragdale Foundation, Centrum, and The National Park Service. Her visual work has been shown at The Dallas Museum of Art, The McKinney Avenue Contemporary, Three Arts Club of Chicago, and The Museum of American Jazz. Her poetry films have screened at the Zebra Poetry Festival and the Northwest Film Forum’s Cadence video poetry festival. Her personal essays have appeared in Tricycle, Atlas Obscura, CityArts, and YES! Magazine. She lives and works on the unceded ancestral lands of the Duwamish.


Blue Citadel is a column by Douglas Cole (Washington, USA). Novelist, poet, professor and translator.

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