A Forest of Names (one year of meditating on the names of children lost in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake) by Ian Boyden

[In our previous print issue of basalt, we included a selection from Ian Boyden's A Forest of Names, his daily meditations on the names of the 5,196 children who died in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. This project began as a response to an exhibition Ian curated of Ai Weiwei's work related to the earthquake. I recall Ian telling me at the time, as he hung the twenty-one scrolls, measuring over ten feet tall and forty-two feet long, that he literally pressed his body against every name on the wall. Ian wondered if his physical experience hanging the scrolls wasn't in fact part of the work's conception. And so began A Forest of Names. In honor of the memory of these children, in the coming months, we intend to bring readers selections from the longer manuscript. Below is our first installment. --Ed.]

 

 

JANUARY 23

 

霜霜

Frost Frost

In her language

eye and tree sound

the same

one on the tongue

one in the ear

the single syllable:

 

 

Rain falls

over an ancient forest

whose roots have no allegiance

to states or provinces

or human governance

Roots know the earth

stone by stone

without thought of light or dark

following the pull of gravity

the same gravity

that holds the world

in a thin veil of ice

filled with morning light

Must we shed this garment of night?

 

 

And still the rain falls

each droplet a lens

turning the trees upside down

turning the eye upside down

the world

all the world falling there

the shaking

the torn roots clearing the air

Raw dust

and the smell of the dead

Our mouths fill with sounds

that are not singing

 

 

JANUARY 24

 

雪燕

Snow Swallow

Long after the others had flown

one wing-black spiral

through ice-white air

She was two years old

 

柳均

Willow of Equality

The wind swept them so easily

yet I could not pass through the weeping branches

So I dug the earth alone

feeling for the roots of humility

 

 

JANUARY 25

 

宇航

Cosmic Boat

He lit a match

and in the universe

of the curling ember

his name set sail

 

 

JANUARY 26

 

若宇

Like the Universe

They ran their hands through her rubble-

strewn hair

The gray dust there a former distant starlight

 

 

JANUARY 27

 

雪蓮

Snow Lotus

To the cicadas, mosquitoes

and rattling wings of the humid air

the mud offers

pure white hands

 

 

JANUARY 28

 

Change

He tried. He was a child.

No one ever said

just as you are

just as you are.

 

 

JANUARY 29

 

Daylily

She slowly forgot her worries

wandering the limitless halls of sunlight

 

 

JANUARY 30

 

述平

Narrator of Peace

His voice told the first story

But we could not hear it

from the fallen school

His eyes told a second story

flame, stone, sunlight

each a single flower

 

 

JANUARY 31

 

Pile of Gold

As if gifted a quarry,

he dug until he realized

the matrix was the ore itself.