It is Waterman, just before
landslide. Fireworks crack
the night. You cannot catch
a bus to T.F. Green. The bench is full, no room for
your buttocks. You are on call. At the crossing
of Keene and Barnes, I am walking downhill
past Prospect Park. We are running on
cooling time, last circle off
Brown. I empty Scotch shots
to sing. Do you abide my arch
Faunce. We bear each other
to burn. The house is lit. Behind
that door, I couch on Duino
windbreak. You will find the Aztec to show
your teeth. I am in the end
of light, undisturbed except to the smooth
skinned. We are allergic to the least
chamomiled. We are in the failing
fire. Apricots to the weathered
mouth. We spit.
We are in this
together. Subject line un-
fulfilled. Jam un-
stirred. What have we done.
Be frank. Stand
straight. My dear
dear friend, be gentle, be rain, be the damp
earth where the sick
It is 11:58. We are crossing
midnight. I am alert. You are sitting
by the window. Do you see. The graveyard
glitters in the clearing
of our minds. The eyes lick in
late fog. The dead get on
the roll tide. Do you see.
You tugged a lean note and signed
your name. The book you lent me I wrapped
in newspapers three layers thick. What is more
intimate than dew before daybreak. The walk
finished off long, prolonged as time skims
and we change.
Invocation too late. I need your help. I am under
the weather. We never had tea. Are you
in wind’s eye. I turned on the stove
and drink. Will you chiliflake
my soup. Now you smoke again. Now
you speak so often. The porch has no trash-
can. I lose my voice to the cold. Tonight the fog
looks like snow. Do you see. What is there
to avoid, at all cost. But suffering. But. Suffering.
Nothing to be done. Effectively lose. Or leave
or take, agony seamless. Who’s crying wolf. Do you
read. Boats in sands or hunters in woods.
We are neither. We strand. We kill. No. We are
this spit of earth. We are, in company.
Read along. Here is the heart. Do you see. Ever so quiet, does it
deliver. You are dark. Not of your skin. I am in the naked
light. Read along. The night
ever tender, the walk ever long. I am shameless.
Do you see. After the wave, debris will
surface. We will go
in the finite fine wind.
By rain. By boat. No. We die
I am in
Providence. It is not
night. No snow. I am below
zero. Will you be
Venus. Not for
me. Not a chance. Magpie too early
for the spring. No dew for you. Salt
in my eye. The lounge
littered. My dry throat. We are
to clean. Are you
a mess. We are not monochrome
to what we are. The water boils
in the pot. Drop by
drop, it spills. Lemonginger.
Earlgrey. A mix too easy
to dye. Ocrelight in the cup. You and I
are one thing. There goes
no clearing. We fly
by the dark. The rain
will not fall. The city
holds ground. The waterfire
awaits. Along the Narragansett Bay, old barges
anchor rotten logs. The notes in the bottle
torn in the sea. We are here
to stay. I head in-
to the trees. Headphones clog
your ears. I am
listening. In the frenzy
we fill the day.
It is late
afternoon on a mild
winter day. I am
at the John Hay, nothing
circulating. You are
off to the lounge. Someone’s
watching over you. You have
no choice. The rollercoaster
over. Like a hermit, you get
weak. Not in the knee. Single
mornings, you stand
out. What is here
to stay. Sunflowers droop
on their own appetite. You are too
cold to get out
of bed. My bones
brittle as cinders. Do you
I am. We love
our mothers. We trust. In what
faith do I wish
to live and die. Almost.
Almost. What I taste is all
smell. Exhale. Inhale. Please move
the door. Your museum-
like arrogance. Far-out
It was the last
day. I did not realize. I never asked when
you would be leaving. Then you were finishing
laundry in the basement of a student dormitory.
I called you when the sunlight slanted
and the old couples moved back to their quietude
of impinging festivity. The children did not come.
The plastic chairs they sat on were still
warm to the touch. Paint peeled off. Lamplight switched
on. I threw a piece of paper into an open
garbage can without realizing that they were
looking at me. I felt their eyes and said
hi. They waved their hands. The man fished
out his cigarettes. The woman tightened her hands
on the armlet. I walked past. The fence
was between us. The children were leaving town.
The library was empty of the usual sweat
smell of young bodies rubbing off
their unflinching belief in the permanence
of the self. The world cares not one
drop. The pressure of the fountain was so
low. Lips were used to wrap. Now they were flipping
to drive out air so that speaking becomes
an activity of the voice
void of thinking
in air. You were always in
air. You saw me walk in and
out and you said you were getting
closer. I did not see. I looked all over
the hill. You were smiling
I could hear. Then you said
did you see the big tree on your right.
I did. I was blind to your presence.
I said I did not see you behind the trees.
I did not see the windows of the red brick building in
which you were running downstairs. You pointed
me to where you were. You were inside, waving.
I teased you, pretending I was angry with you no
more, amorously so. You were engaged
for the rest of the day. So I waited. You never called
as you promised. I knew you. You were happy
with an old friend, broken, torn and returned. I knew
you manipulated. That was something to back
on. You took your easy advantage. You were on your high
horse. For you, company is a call away when walk is needed.
I was thinking of a friend who snored whenever a laugh
is cracked fine. I rushed down the stairs and broke into
the street. The crowd was already gone. The lights
in the reading room were hardly lit. Come
down to your senses
and open the gate.
Dong Li was born and raised in the People’s Republic of China. His honors include fellowships from Yaddo, VCCA, OMI Ledig House, VSC, KHN, Millay, DAAD and Colgate University’s Olive B. O’Connor Poet-in-Residence 2013-2014. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review, comma, poetry, Hotel Amerika, Denver Quarterly and Cincinnati Review. His work has been translated into German and appeared in manuskripte (Austria). Li is also Editor-at-Large (China) for the international translation journal Asymptote.