A Forest of Names (January) by Ian Boyden

[In our previous print issue of basalt, we included a selection from Ian Boyden's A Forest of Names: One Year of Meditating on the Names of Children Lost in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, his daily meditations on the names of 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 hands 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 monthly selections from the longer manuscript. Below is our first installment. --Ed.]

Detail from the installation of Ai Weiwei: Fault Line at the San Juan Island Museum of Art, 2016. Photograph by Ian Boyden

Detail from the installation of Ai Weiwei: Fault Line at the San Juan Island Museum of Art, 2016. Photograph by Ian Boyden



Frost Frost

In his 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.



Cosmic Boat

He lit a match,
and in the universe
of the curling ember
his name set sail.



Like the Universe

They ran their hands through her rubble-
strewn hair.

The gray dust there, a former distant starlight.



Snow Lotus

To the cicadas, mosquitoes,
and rattling wings of the humid air—

the mud offers
pure white hands.




He tried. He was a child.
No one ever said
just as you are
just as you are.



Pile of Gold

As if gifted a quarry,
he took a shovel to the brushstrokes
of his name. The hole filled with ink.
He dug deeper, until the shaft
was inseparable from shadow,
until he realized
the matrix was the ore itself.



Read more from Ian Boyden’s “A Forest of Names” in the following links:

“Introduction to ‘A Forest of Names’”

A Forest of Names — February selections

A Forest of Names — March selections

A Forest of Names — April selections

A Forest of Names — May selections

A Forest of Names — June selections

A Forest of Names — July selections

A Forest of Names — August selections

“Fragile as an Urn: An Interview with Ian Boyden”