By Michael Ondaatje
In certain countries aromas pierce the heart and one dies
half waking in the night as an owl and a murderer’s cart go by
the way someone in your life will talk out love and grief
then leave your company laughing.
In certain languages the calligraphy celebrates
where you met the plum blossom and moon by chance
—the dusk light, the cloud pattern,
recorded always in your heart
and the rest of the world—chaos,
circling your winter boat.
Night of the Plum and Moon.
Years later you shared it
on a scroll or nudged
the ink onto stone
to hold the vista of a life.
A condensary of time in the mountains
—your rain-swollen gate, a summer
scarce with human meeting.
Just bells from another village.
The memory of a woman walking down stairs.
Life on an ancient leaf
or a crowded 5th-century seal
this mirror-world of art
—lying on it as if a bed.
When you first saw her,
the night of moon and plum,
you could speak of this to no one.
You cut your desire
against a river stone.
You caught yourself
in a cicada-wing rubbing,
The indelible darker self.
A seal, the Masters said,
must contain bowing and leaping,
“and that which hides in waters.”
Yellow, drunk with ink,
the scroll unrolls to the west
a river journey, each story
an owl in the dark, its child-howl
—that father and daughter,
that lover walking naked down blue stairs
each step jarring the humming from her mouth.
I want to die on your chest but not yet,
she wrote, sometime in the 13 th century
of our love
before the yellow age of paper
before her story became a song,
lost in imprecise reproductions
until caught in jade,
whose spectrum could hold the black greens
the chalk-blue of her eyes in daylight.
Our altering love, our moonless faith.
Last ink in the pen.
My body on this hard bed.
The moment in the heart
where I roam restless, searching
for the thin border of the fence
to break through or leap.
Leaping and bowing.