I sit in a Chinese labyrinth
just off the main hall, for I can hear
elegant conversation within.
Teak polished to mirror smoothness shows me myself
as a man with a ladder face
on a plumaged neck of grouse or
ruffed pheasant. Hands like jade
tongs. It’s an
astonishing transformation, and only because
I couldn’t answer the supreme puzzle.
I was given objects in blocks of amber to identify,
pearls on invisible strings, fossils in glass,
drawings viewed only from behind,
maps to territories with
interplanetary names, like
Pollen Dust in Space, Float of Gymnosperm,
Ariadne’s Petit Point.
I washed in seven sacred seas the color of blood.
I let my face re-emerge on the surface like an
orange bathed in blue moonlight.
The bandits were beheaded as I counted the emperor’s take
from unjust taxation.
I ate only prawns dipped in Mongolian opium.
But the spindly tree in the courtyard knows the answer to the puzzle.
Yesterday winter snow followed by sleet
turned it into a tall bundle of
glass rods and crystal twigs, perfectly transparent, glittering
Buds already unfurl at the tips of its branches.
Pinwheels of golden flowers soon will appear
spinning among its limbs.
Summer will see it a dense parasol full of
birds hunting inchworms, alert and
nimble as light.
The tree doesn’t speak to passersby, only to stones.
Stones gather around its
base to hear its parables.
I’ve overheard the end of a phrase, and then been found out.
They all fell silent until I left.
So, how do I know the tree has uncovered the conundrum?
It changes and never changes.
It sways but isn’t blown down.
It refuses to be less than it is, even
Sunlight loves its leaves.
It speaks into the wind.
3/21/92 (from The Puzzle)Go to Poem