The five dawns of Meng Chiao

Trees lock their roots in rotted coffins
And the twisted skeletons hang tilted upright:
Branches weep as the forest perches
Mournful cadences, remote and clear.

from ‘Sadness of the Gorges’

I take the wooden chimes, breathe in the salt of an ancient wine, prepare for flight, wary of a few wayward ants gnawing at the base of my poems, as if their ghosts were larger than their pretense.

The rocks are steep, the path turns off course.
When the evening chimes send off the departing guest
The notes I count drop from the farthest sky.

from “And Excursion to the Dragon Pool Temple on Chung-nan”

The loud screech mulls what is possible: could the lament be more careful and could the wine see more than what the ink allows?

The wind which roams without design
Cleanses of passion’s transient strife.

from “Stopping on a Journey at the East Water Pavilion at Lo-ch’eng”

It is not strife that leaves its mark but the bluntness of the unsheathed sword. We can tell this by the stained parchment’s lonely strains.

These times, the traveler’s heart
Is a flag a hundred feet high in the wind.

from “On Mount Ching”

I grit my teeth amidst the ice-mountain and the fire-sea, and what do I see but the wind sawing through the grain of my lost poems.

Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all sunshine of spring?

from “Wanderer’s Song”

Night is not just possible, it is dread. And day is the mere blight of sun that wore itself down in a hurry to meet the impending made possible, made true in the image of night.

Note: All five excerpts are taken from A.C. Graham’s Poems of the Late Tang.

Poems, Justice and Data Visualization

I have long been entertaining the possibility of somehow tying together the three areas: poems, social justice and data visualization. It has been tricky, but here is my first attempt.

The 10 poems by Audre Lorde and Muriel Rukeyser (wellsprings of poetic sensibility) are intended to provide context for the accompanying data visualization on gender (using data from This is intended in a tangential and somewhat disruptive way. Data for indicators in the development world is mostly presented in a cut and dried way. Add to that their lumping together in neat categories and the bobbing up and down of pretty graphs and charts, and you end up euphemizing the underlying reality. The technical brilliance on display then serves as spectacle. That of course does not take away from the fact that the underlying numbers have been painstakingly collected and systematically organized. And these numbers are pretty much the only authoritative ones that map the reality that social activists use to change the world.

Hence the poems as corrective.

the geometry of insatiable wholes

the allowable burn has its own topology, the forbidden its own – ash then becomes
trajectory manufactured as solace, the green greet of a nonindulgent poesy – what

burns now, the tangent or its numbered whole? an open space is permission to suffer
or perhaps the inkling of withheld balm – what need kills my whet & stuns my why

ordinarily, pejoratively, oblivious to the whole ? three tangents dance perpendicular –
if I operate minimally, do I enforce closure? do the rapids teach wind a nonrepentant

quietitude? does the whole unwind when its parts scream out for recompense? and does
the physics of atomic unwholes descend as humans do, part license, part vicissitude?

we pen our quatrains

the regenerative ways of subservient error
a history of consequence    error as anchor that
drives the molten sky    error as the whether,
the or deciding to be thus and and    –    undoing
the fount of each query is the unquestion,
particle of, rentier of the perennially mutable
triteness of being    –    the anti-nihil poemsaying noto
no    we pen our quatrains as we love our polite
inknesses    we allow the sunspeak to speaksong

before this night became song

before this night became song
I quarreled with the barreled

dark      took youth to task brought
hark to worry sold the tune of

death as so many lyrics that went
the songward way      before this

night became song I quarreled

More than water, I have faith in
the sweat of

Treebark      in the foot of the mountain’s
burrow      more

Than the lick of an aguing folksong I
have faith in

The grass of worry, the team of point
less clemencies

spirit of the matter-of-fact

the spirit of the matter-of-fact speaks, and
the stray dogs of my poem

wither off into unkempt song     not dressed
for the occasion, we are

called out for being rain, flower, sunknown
seed     the song is tired

it will be forever before the spirit of the
matter-of-fact decides

we are called out for being snake, wood,
snowbound need     the

song is tired     it will be forever before
the spirit of the matter-

of-fact abides, and it will not rain till
time dries out & slithers

I greet my deed

“Happily may fair yellow corn, fair blue corn, fair corn of all kinds, plants of all kinds, jewels of all kinds, to the ends of the earth, come with you
With these before you, happily may they come with you
With these behind, below, above, around you, happily may they come with you
Thus you accomplish your tasks”

American Indian Poetry – an anthology of songs and chants, lines from Night Song.

With my error as guide, I
sieve through plants of all kinds, with

error as my guide, I roast
all kindling as my own – to

the ends of the earth, I toast
my happy loaves – thus I meet

my deed on my way, with error
burning on my eves, I greet my

deed behind, below, around me –
thus I accomplish my tasks

are you nourished by the sea of
the child who plays in the dark &
is your belly full?

is your rope too taut for magic
and if it is, where is the wand
to dry each bone?

do you flip each eerie stone &
when you do, does your heart skip
along tiny wishsteps?

the cornstalk grew corntales
some were ripe and some were

just thorns      so many thorns
there was no forgiveness

so many thorns, one could only
try and grow more corn      and

this time, some were tall and
some were beginning to sound

repetitious      so the corntales
grew up all handsome and pretty

and did not speak for a very
long time      till one spoke –