A Forest of Names (May) by Ian Boyden

Detail of the Tycho lunar crater. Photo courtesy of Nasa.

Detail of the Tycho lunar crater. Photo courtesy of Nasa.

[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.]


Sun-Moon Encircling

Illumined by spinning bodies,
our mind a blossom of gravity,
and gravity itself.

1300 years before him,
and on the same ground,
a child was born as still
as the dammed water of a deep river.
He poured from the Tibetan plateau.
pooled before the weir,
pooled to become a mirror.

One cannot polish water’s surface,
and his teachings returned to the sea,

pouring into his final words:
Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha.

He plunged a stick into ash
on the slopes of Stone Gate Mountain—
long, short, neither long nor short.
Without speaking of long or short,
the only answer to a line
is to draw another line.




Yet astonishing. Each of us.
Sails tracking winds,
ancient as the most distant point of light.




Moon-white heart of the sky.
What holds you in one place?

The oar at one with the drum.



Literary Forest

Where the full moon once cast shadows of woven branches,
the new moon looks upon barren ground.



Snow Dragon

Latticed hand of cloud, she melts in shifting earth.
But look! There, where mountain cuts the sky.


MAY 10

At One with Copious Rain

One with parted cloud,
with leaf-drummed birdsong
of swirling vapor and swollen river,

one with fallen stone.
Now one with memory itself
in the delicate halls of language.


MAY 12 (the anniversary of the earthquake)

Vast Swelling Waves

He died on his eighth birthday.

They drew the number eight—
the figure of infinity.

They drew the number
as a map,
and waited for their son
at the crossroads.

They drew it
as if it were his name,
a locked door,
a letter,
orchid-like within the water.

His absence an abyss.
Today, may his name overflow.


Delight in Devouring

Delight in morning iris, her mother’s kiss, the first star.
What is devoured remains…

such is the delight of the child’s mind.



The rain falls
upon the field
and the imperial court—

it falls impartially.

The field blooms with gratitude.

In the halls of white marble,
the men erase
the scent of soil.


MAY 13

First Glimmer of Dawn

Even the moon was shaken.
How the dust settled so quickly.

The people looked to where
the sun should rise, waited
as if it were an offering.

They held the place
where they thought their heart should be
though there was no proper place,

Stones, parts of buildings,
papers scattered like leaves.

It must be winter,
but the trees say it is late spring.

The horizon of her name,
dark blue but fading.


MAY 16

Molten Floatingheart

To cure heartache, one needed only to sit
by her bank and gaze at the floating stars.


MAY 20

Banked with Earth

Where continuity consists of brokenness,
we plant the seeds of forget-me-nots.


MAY 21

Made New by the Moon

She came with her chisels and carved,
month after month, until the tree

was a 1,000 feet of moonlight.


MAY 22

Distinct Leaf

It’s not that the leaf was different or the tree unusual.
She was simply given an invitation

that her name could change as she grew into it:
Quiet Leafing,
Pure Harmony,
Clear Rhyme.

Her choice, her distinction.


MAY 23

Perennial Inflorescence

Walk the wild meadows of late May.
With the slightest wind, her name sweeps the sky.


MAY 25

Continuous Fierce Fire

By foot, by cart… no shelter in a field of white chrysanthemums.


MAY 26

Poet Farmer

When the world was all forest,
there were no names
just glistening seeds.

To make room for our names,
we began to cut the trees,
we began to cut the shadows.

And where the shadows disappeared,
the ground became an eye
and looked up into the sky.

We measured the eye with our hands,
measured the sun’s motion with our hands,
with the same hands that cut the shadows.

Then we broke the soil,
tilled it using clam shells for a plow,
watched the soil fill with morning light.

And only then did we plant the seeds of our names,
line by line by verse by line,
a language to replicate the nameless forest.

We grew into the seeds’ oblivion,
we grew into this new language of hands,
into this language that insists our body become a plow,

insists our body become a lost shadow,

but a named shadow,
a chasm to look across,
at whose edge the ancient forest leans.


MAY 27

Crossing the River of Delight

Wind crosses the ripening field
like a hand across raw clay.

The first gift
a name the texture of infinity.


MAY 28


At birth, the yarrow stalks were cast: six broken lines.
And they read: Earth—a pure field.

It was there he wrote calligraphy with lightning.



Read the Introduction to Forest of Names

Read selections from January

Read selections from February

Read selections from March

Read selections from April

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