Two Poems

Poetry / Karen An-hwei Lee

:: The Anarchist Gardener ::

A willowy man on Shenkeng-Tofu Road 
		         opens a leafy bao, 
			                The Anarchist Gardener.

Avant-garde Taipei acupuncture—
		          pressure points for urban renewal  
	     in artist villages, warehouses, gardens.
		               A square cigarette zhi—
a seahorse of privacy, rose-hip

of blood, slashed cord of his wrist—
Wild dogs?   

	     The city killed me, he says. Confession—
		               as a healer in a glass house 
I lined up tiny bottles on my coffee tables,

prayed for anti-venin in my veins,
			                           an urban acupuncturist— 
	      this garden of flora and flame.  

Civilizations rise and fall—

Holy volumes of sandalwood 
	      rose to heaven—on this flesh-rung, 
		               if I only remember you, no others—

	      is this amnesia or healing?

:: Post-Scarlet Blossom of Aporia ::

Fragrance clings to the hand offering you roses 
is English, not the original Mandarin.

What is translation—
		                  I touched a rose in the dark mouth
of its death. What was a priori—
if an aroma once winged the air,  
         is paloma equal to dove in Spanish?
Does fragrance testify to its aromaticity
if a word opens? Does a double-rose exist
in mythical shades as a phoenix?

How about a cane-boring wasp laying eggs 
in a rose-pith snapping in the wind?
What if the name—jin-niao fan lu meigui—
		                  fans the water as a flaming gold bird—
if the only evidence for our propositions 
about a rose is a first-person soliloquy,
			                        post-scarlet blossom of aporia,

tabula rasa of perfume as a puzzle 
or a state of loss. 


From the writer

:: Account ::

“On a Poet’s Field of Labor” 

So, how does a poet earn a living? 

I buy the field no one would ever want, one passed over by hundreds of eyes. When I write eyes, I mean years. Passed over by hundreds of years. I know there is no salt mine locked under the field, no aquifers or cities of undiscovered gold.  Eyes. It is a field no one else would buy, and that is enough. I compost a tea of rice hulls and nettles so it is fertile enough to hold root. If the earth is too fallow, I work it with agua to make red clay for flower pots and roof tiles. 

If it cannot hold a shape, I dig a ditch to see if it holds water and put the grandchildren of an underground gardener’s fish in their new home.  The underground gardener, by the way, tends sea-water caves. That is a story for another time. There is a lot one can do with a field no one wants, if one has an eye and patience. A field may hold water if lavender, acres of flowering milkweed, or new acacias and evergreens are sown. A field may sit on oil, coal, or bones. A hundred fish children are schooled in rooms of their own to learn about their nature, one of the first lessons.

If a body of water is not in motion, then sadly it stagnates and starts to vanish. 

I share a parable about faith, a lesson one learned years ago. The trial is arduous, fording a lake one thought was a pool, crossing a river one thought was a brook. Years ago, indeed, this was a rain puddle or stream. This season, a lake or ocean the fish children remember, finning under clear domes of a water basilica or lustrous salt mine rising over a blue oasis of various and sundry lives, new basis for their loves, basophilia.  Fish ancestors, long and beautiful, were bred in an underground garden.

Basophilia is a form of blood and a love for blue.

No one thought of death until two ate the crooked fruit. Bitter to the innocent, sweet to the thief.  A star appeared in the east, and the year is now turning, flowing to from one word-root to another. The lesson is this.

          The basis of faith is water
          never stagnant
                    always moving
          flowing generously 
          if you drink from it.



Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo Press, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008), and In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she lives and teaches in southern California, where she is a novice harpist. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.