The winners of the National Book awards for 2019 were announced on November 20 at a ceremony in New York City at Cipriani Wall Street restaurant. Today’s post offers an excerpt from winning poetry Sight Lines by Arthur Sze.
From the current phenomenon of drawing calligraphy with water in public parks in China to Thomas Jefferson laying out dinosaur bones on the White House floor, from
the last sighting of the axolotl to a man who stops building plutonium
triggers, Sight Lines moves through space and time and brings the disparate and
divergent into stunning and meaningful focus. In this new work, Arthur Sze
employs a wide range of voices―from lichen on a ceiling to a man behind on his rent―and his mythic
imagination continually evokes how humans are endangering the planet; yet,
balancing rigor with passion, he seizes the significant and luminous and
transforms these moments into riveting and enduring poetry.
"...The Sight Lines is Sze's 10th collection are just that―imagistic lines strung together by jump-cuts, creating a filmic collage that itself seems to be a portrait of simultaneity..." ―The New York Times
"These new poems are stronger yet and by confronting time head-on, may best stand its tests." ―Lit Hub
“...This is poetry of assemblage, where violence and beauty combine and hang on Sze's particular gift for the leaping non sequitur. ‘Green tips of tulips are rising out of the earth— / you don't flense a whale or fire at beer cans / in an arroyo but catch the budding / tips of pear branches and wonder,’ Sze writes. Inside these poems of billowing consciousness, we too are alive to a spectrum of wonders.--The New York Times Book Review - Tess Taylor
"The wonders and realities of the world as seen through travel, nature walks, and daily routine bring life to the poems in Sight Lines." ―Library Journal
Arthur Sze writes with a quiet mastery which generates beautiful, sensuous, inventive, and emotionally rich poems. Sight Lines unfurls like ink in water, circulating through meditations on the natural world; the pleasure and associational depth of eating food; and the profound constitutions of self through memory, human relationships, and experience of the actual world. A keen awareness arises of structural, environmental, and social threats in the midst of this expansive beauty.
Deer browse at sunrise in an apple orchard,
while honey locust leaves litter the walk.
A neighbor hears gunshots in the bosque
and wonders who's firing at close range;
I spot bear prints near the Pojoaque River
but see no sign of the reported mountain lion.
As chlorophyll slips into the roots of a cottonwood
and the leaves burst into yellow gold, I wonder,
where's our mortal flare? You can travel
to where the Tigris and Euphrates flow together
and admire the inventions of people living
on floating islands of reeds; you can travel
along an archipelago and hike among volcanic
pools steaming with water and sulfuric acid;
but you can't change the eventual, adamant body.
Though death might not come like a curare-
dipped dart blown out of a tube or slam
at you like surf breaking over black lava rock,
it will come—it will come—and it unites us—
brother, sister, boxer, spinner—in this pact,
while you inscribe a letter with trembling hand.
Porch light illuminating white steps, light
over a garage door, darkness inside windows—
and the darkness exposes the tenuous.
A glass blower shapes a rearing horse
that shifts, on a stand, from glowing orange
to glistening crystal; suddenly the horse
shatters into legs, head, body, mane.
At midnight, “Fucking idiot!” a woman yells,
shaking the house; along a hedge,
a man sleeps, coat over head, legs sticking out;
and, at 8 am, morning glories open
on a fence; a backhoe heads up the street.
From this window, he views banana leaves,
an orange tree with five oranges, house
with shingled roofs, and steps leading
to an upstairs apartment; farther off, palm trees,
and, beyond, a sloping street, ocean, sky;
but what line of sight leads to revelation?
Green tips of tulips are rising out of the earth—
you don’t flense a whale or fire at beer cans
in an arroyo but catch the budding
tips of pear branches and wonder what
it’s like to live along a purling edge of spring.
Jefferson once tried to assemble a mastodon
skeleton on the White House floor but,
with pieces missing, failed to sequence the bones;
when the last speaker of a language dies,
a hue vanishes from the spectrum of visible light.
Last night, you sped past revolving and flashing
red, blue, and white lights along the road—
a wildfire in the dark; though no one
you knew was taken in the midnight ambulance,
an arrow struck a bull’s eye and quivered
in its shaft: one minute gratitude rises
like water from an underground lake,
another dissolution gnaws from a black center.