A Forest of Names (March) by Ian Boyden

[Throughout 2018, we have committed to publishing a selection of poems from each month of Ian Boyden’s manuscript “A Forest of Names.” Over the course of a year, Boyden translated the 5,196 names of schoolchildren crushed in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. He then began a collection of poems, each written on the day of each child’s birth. An in-depth discussion of these poems can be read in “Fault Line: An Introduction to A Forest of Names.” —Eds.]

The installation of Ai Weiwei: Fault Line at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art (2016), curated by Ian Boyden.

The installation of Ai Weiwei: Fault Line at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art (2016), curated by Ian Boyden.


 

MARCH 1


Luminous White

Its etymology invites the mind:
the luminous setting of a piece of paper.

 

MARCH 2


Ice

The archeologists pulled an ancient stone
from a hollow in the mud, one of the five divine beasts
carved by Ice, a man who walked the earth
when we were not separate from it.

Ice had been tasked to tame the spring floods
that carried away fields, temples, houses, and children
when the river could not fall as fast
as the weight of its heart.

They chose him because his name was a frozen river.
He carved a new channel, split the river in two,
cut trees, split stone, sacrificed an entire mountain
home to birds and wild boars.

And after he split the river he took the bones
of the mountain and carved them into Zhulong,
boar-dragons whose skin mirrors whirling water
and who speak liquid’s language.

Ice placed these beasts in the river
to calm the rage of its melting self.
Somewhere in the wordless dark
he was aware too of his melting self.”

Part of us is always melting,
just as part is always forgetting.
The people cried to the archaeologists to leave
the beast in the mud, at home in the river bank.

For two thousand years they burned incense,
rubbed it with oil, poured wine
upon its shoulders as it met the spring
floods, and tamed the hands that carved it.

Among the rooms of national treasure,
the river couldn’t find its gods.
Its belly misses the vortex of words gods spoke
to soothe the river rising with spring melt.

Not finding it the river spills its banks
frantic to call it home.

 

MARCH 4

思宇
Universe of Thought

Always hovering
like a field suspended
above the heart.

But what held
the thought aloft
was no match
for the shelter
of its finality.

 

MARCH 7

忠亮
Resonant to the Center of the Heart

Each hour of spring
brings yet another color of sound.
The valley’s ringing

rises over the last notes of snow.

 

MARCH 10

羽雪
Feather Snow

This name is so quiet. It waits for the wind.

The child’s down pillow still waits for its dreamer.

 

MARCH 11

宇涵
Saturated Universe

A lifetime of letters spilled
into the Min River.

Helpless to gather them
she drank the ink-blackened water.

 

MARCH 12

鳞峰
Fish Scale Mountain Peak

They were all born
among dancing stones—
like sparks in dry grass.

 

MARCH 14

懷平
Harbor Peace Within the Heart

When we hold a child
to the drumbeat within us,
a scale stands balanced.

Around the drum,
drifts the smoke
of another day.

 

MARCH 17

晨雨
Daybreak Rain

We blackened the first brush tip to draw this very image.
We haven’t set the brush down since.
She was five.

 

MARCH 18

泉誠
Spring of Sincerity

The child-who-was
stepped from the cage of his name
to greet his memory.

This memory-self was dispersed
among those who remembered him,
perhaps as a stray mark somewhere,
as a number, as a name on a wall,
yet fading, each day fading.

Strangers to one another,
the child-who-was and his memory
looked at one another,

each opened his mouth to speak,
but instead of words, water flowed
and those who listened gasped

at the water’s changes.
Topaz, tourmaline, glacier-gray moonstone,
now boiling over, now barely a trickle.
Topaz, tourmaline, glacier-gray moonstone.
How to listen to,
how to understand such a language?
They dipped their hands into the current,
what was said washed through their fingers.
They took sips, held the water on their tongues.
They washed their faces,
felt it evaporate from their foreheads.
But they could not understand,
they could not make sense
of that which was free of deceit.

And then another mouth opened
and swallowed the conversation—
topaz, tourmaline, glacier-gray moonstone—

swallowed it whole
into the broken earth
all mouths share.

 

MARCH 19

雨波
Rain Wave

He was born between ridgelines
carved by centuries of rain,
in a ravine carved
by those same centuries’ rain.

Language flows as water cuts.
Names gathered in the raw shadows:
Wild Ox Ravine
Peach Barrier Ravine
Grindstone Ravine
Mouth of the Forest Ravine
Wave Harbor Drum Ravine
Golden Wave Temple Ravine
Ocean Child Ravine
Echoing Water Ravine
White Mud Ravine

Ravines filled with waves—
waves of cedar,
waves of bamboo,
waves of bird song
above the fallen stone,
waves of moss
and children’s dreams,

waves of silence,
mist, and rain.

 

MARCH 24

莎莎
Katydid Katydid

A moon polished by fine sand
listens to the autumn night,
an oscillating song
glowing green as the singer’s body.

 

MARCH 29

雨佳
Auspicious Rain

It fell impartially
only to become a torrent
known as the River of the Mountain People.

It flowed as both river and prophecy.

It was here the mothers gathered,
lifted handfuls of water,
let it fall as rain again,

its message irreducible.

 

MARCH 31


Ocean

His name was both a boat
and the medium upon which it drifted.

A white boat dissolved into the white horizon.

 
 

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

“Introduction to ‘A Forest of Names’”

A Forest of Names — January selections

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

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