Winter 1994, Volume 11.1
Poetry

BILL HOLM

What Brigham Young Said:

Brigham Young said: This is the place.
Myself I've always been inclined
to think it was over the next hill,
or perhaps they all
are the place for awhile
and then none of them is.

Brigham Young said: all streets shall be straight
and named alike with number, direction,
Main and Center; this way no one will ever
be lost wherever they are
and will always find their way home.

Myself, I've always preferred
being a little lost wherever I am,
never too sure which way is home.
I like streets named for strangers,
or in languages I don't understand;
streets that suddenly change direction,
streets that lie about cause and effect
forget their own systems and meander,
lost, through the middle of towns, never
too sure who lives on them at any moment.

 

In Arches Park: Moab, Utah

The Delicate Arch
is not ...
nor symmetrical
nor triumphal.
If Napoleon had marched
under it, he would have
disappeared into the canyon.
Only the wind marches
through this hole, and it has
no cause to celebrate
its victories over anything.

To Priests and Therapists of whatever Denomination.
Driving up Price Canyon to Spanish Fork
along the Old UnionPacific Tracks

Helper, Utah cannot hear
where you are coming from
but will get behind
whatever you just did
and push it over the pass
with a spare engine.
Go and do likewise.

Racial Confusion in China

The boy at the bus stop offers in English
"a very good rate for American dollar. . "
None, I say. "You look like Karl Marx."
"Is that good or bad?" I ask. The question
puzzles him a bit. "We Chinese
respect Marx. We are communists."
Here, half a world from Europe,
they can't tell a Jew from an Icelander.
The beard says everything; hair is hair
when it grows in all the wrong places.
If only, half a century ago, the Germans
had been this smart, a man could have saved
his neck by shaving. A whole country now
without razor blade or bare chin.
The republic of whiskers!
Suddenly this seems more wise
than other schemes humans devised
to sort off into hordes and tribes.

Girl Eating Rice

Dinner on a dusty February night in a teacher's cramped cement flat. After cooking, she comes in to eat leftovers, carrying a bowl of rice. Rice steam curls up around her black hair. Her face is like an ancient Chinese painting trying to explain to the future what it meant to be beautiful in an old, long gone dynasty. That could be a pippa in her hands instead of a bowl of rice; her black chopsticks could be plectra. She plays the rice as much as eats it, each mouthful perfect as an old poem, sung slowly, a little tinkling laughter and a wrinkling of the eyes between bites, like sighs of pleasure at how the tune goes.

I sit there, neither listening to nor understanding the hum of Chinese talk around the table. I can't keep my eyes either off her rice or her opera hands moving from bowl to lips to a cold morsel of pepper or pork.

She is not an old painting of music at all but a lovely young girl in a lavender sweater who has cooked a long time for her husband's old teacher. Yet she is the other thing too, thousands of years old, a girl from the mountains of such beauty and grace that the emperor sees her eating rice in the palace kitchen, and weeps for his passing life and the misery of his country.

The New Music, the Old Song

Late March in Wuhan, third week of cold rain. The roof leaks four places. The cacophonous clanging of icy drops into tin plates makes, a new tune, though it could be Arnold Schoenberg.

The old plaster is sky colored-dead face grey, weakening fast. Soon it will come down, bombing my head with damp plaster chunks. This flat is rubble already, like something leftover after the Luftwaffe paid a night call over London in 1940. The Brits raked up their ruined rooms in the

morning, shaking their fists at Hitler in the sky.

Where do I shake my fist? The Central Committee-the great Mandala-God-a half century of wasted history-the Prince of Lies? Or, as tests

say, none of the above? Does this rain want me to go home?

I'll find dry music paper, wait for the next twelve tin tones falling, write them down and see what theme they add up to in the end.