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.