Before Completion Poem by Arthur Sze

Before Completion

1 I gaze through a telescope at the Orion Nebula,
a blue vapor with a cluster of white stars,
gaze at the globular cluster in Hercules,
needle and pinpoint lights stream into my eyes.
A woman puts a baby in a plastic bag
and places it in a dumpster; someone
parking a car hears it cry and rescues it.
Is this the little o, the earth?
Deer at dusk are munching apple blossoms;
a green snake glides down flowing acequia water.
The night is rich with floating pollen;
in the morning, we break up the soil
to prepare for corn. Fossilized cotton pollen
has been discovered at a site above six thousand feet.
As the character yi, change, is derived
from the skin of a chameleon, we are
living the briefest hues on the skin
of the world. I gaze at the Sombrero Galaxy
between Corvus and Spica: on a night with no moon,
I notice my shadow by starlight.

2 Where does matter end and space begin?

blue jays eating suet;

juggling three crumbled newspaper balls
wrapped with duct tape;

tasseling corn;

the gravitational bending of light;

"We're dying";

stringing a coral necklace;

he drew his equations on butcher paper;

vanishing in sunlight;


she folded five hundred paper cranes and placed them in a

sleeping in his room in a hammock;

they drew a shell to represent zero;

red persimmons;

what is it like to catch up to light?

he threw Before Completion:
six in the third place, nine in the sixth.

3 A wavering line of white-faced ibises,
flying up the Rio Grande, disappears.
A psychic says, "Search a pawnshop

for the missing ring." Loss, a black hole.
You do not intend to commit a series of
blunders, but to discover in one error

an empty cocoon. A weaver dumps
flashlight batteries into a red-dye bath.
A physicist says, "After twenty years,

nothing is as I thought it would be."
You recollect watching a yellow-
and-black-banded caterpillar in a jar

form a chrysalis: in days the chrysalis
lightened and became transparent:
a monarch emerged and flexed its wings.

You are startled to retrieve what you forgot:
it has the crunching sound of river
breakup when air is calm and very clear.

4 Beijing, 1985: a poet describes herding pigs
beside a girl with a glass eye and affirms
the power to dream and transform. Later,
in exile, he axes his wife and hangs himself.
Do the transformations of memory
become the changing lines of divination?
Is the continuum of a moment a red
poppy blooming by a fence, or is it
a woman undergoing radiation treatment
who stretches out on a bed to rest
and senses she is stretching out to die?
At night I listen to your breathing,
guess at the freckles on your arms,
smell your hair at the back of your neck.
Tiger lilies are budding in pots in the patio;
daikon is growing deep in the garden.
I see a bewildered man ask for direction,
and a daikon picker points the way with a daikon.

5 He threw Duration;


what is it like to catch up to light?

a collapsing vertebra;

the folding wings of a blue dragonfly;

receiving a fax;

buffeted on a floatplane between islands;

a peregrine falcon making a slow circle with outstretched

he crumpled papers, threw them on the floor,
called it City of Bums;

polar aligning;

inhaling the smell of her hair;

a red handprint on a sandstone wall;

digging up ginseng;

carding wool;

where does matter end and space begin?

6 Mushroom hunting at the ski basin, I spot
a blood-red amanita pushing up under fir,
find a white-gilled Man On Horseback,
notice dirt breaking and carefully unearth
a cluster of gold chanterelles. I stop
and gaze at yellow light in a clearing.
As grief dissolves and the mind begins to clear,
an s twist begins to loosen the z twisted fiber.
A spider asleep under a geranium leaf
may rest a leg on the radial string of a web,
but cool nights are pushing nasturtiums to bloom.
An eggplant deepens in hue and drops to the ground.
Yellow specks of dust float in the clearing;
in memory, a series of synchronous spaces.
As a cotton fiber burns in an s twist
and unravels the z twist of its existence,
the mind unravels and ravels a wave of light,
persimmons ripening on leafless trees.

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