A Forest of Names (July) by Ian Boyden

Detail from Ai Weiwei: Fault Line. Forground: marble replicas of twisted iron rebar pulled from one of the schools that collapsed in the Sichuan Earthquake (Rebar and Case, 2014). Background: the names of the 5,196 school children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Photograph by Ian Boyden.

Detail from Ai Weiwei: Fault Line. Foreground: marble replicas of twisted iron rebar pulled from one of the schools that collapsed in the Sichuan Earthquake (Rebar and Case, 2014). Background: the names of the 5,196 school children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Photograph 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.]
 
 

JULY 2

熊毅
Resolute Bear

One star for each year he lived,
circling our hearts like a long-handled spoon.

 

JULY 5

秀燕
Elegant Swallow

She flew around and around the pagoda,
bells hanging from the eves that still bear her name.

 

JULY 6


Ridgeline

Each day, his name materialized above his name—
a cloud, held in a blue matrix of his own making.

 

JULY 8

翠玲
Kingfisher Jade Ringing

Were a bird to become stone and keep flying.
Were a bell to become feather and keep ringing.

She lay down her brush whispering,
Were earth to remain earth and stay still.

She left the brush dry without washing it.
The hairs became a solid point of black carbon
whose words were forever withheld.

 

JULY 9

傳坤
To Transmit Earth

Passed from one generation to the next,
this protean sphere rimmed with lightning.

 

JULY 10

陳林
Narrator of Forests

The forest seemed limitless, rising, leafing,
a fluid temple upon the undulating earth.

 

JULY 11

濠鳞
Hao River Scales

When you read this name,
the ghost fire of a fish
swims across your retina.
The whole world swims there.
The most distant unknowable thing
flutters at the very edge of your mind.
It mixes with you
who is endlessly becoming,
blooming as a smile,
as a tremble, as a tear.
It rises as a voice.
And in the weir of your own eye,
another voice answers,
swims through you ears.
It mixes with delight,
even as it questions delight itself.

One was not the other,
and neither of them was a fish,
but all of it

ancient starlight
teaching the mind to walk
as though the flames had feet.

 

JULY 13

炫銘
Dazzling Inscription

Held in the eternity of bronze,
poured from a crucible of dark and silent fire.

Who wrote the inscription?
Who dug the metal and from what mountain?
Who cut the wood that fed the fire,
and whose breath fanned the flames
of the metal’s melting?

And once cooled,
who broke open the clay?
Who polished the words?
Who offered it to the sunlight?
Who read it aloud for the first time?

Who read it aloud for the last time?

Filled now with rain,
a bird sits on the rim and drinks
its own reflection.

 

JULY 17


Refined

As she wrote, a line of trees branched the blue void.
On the earth below, we read the shadow of her mind.

 

JULY 21

禹軒
The Pavilion of Yu the Great

Built without laying a single stone.
Smashed without a word of acknowledgement.

 

JULY 24

晏銘
Cloudless Inscription

Carved into stone, into the sky’s edge.
Shadows rolled, but never across his name.

 

JULY 25

依銘
Intimate Inscription

Tailored of ineffable cloth.
The subject of the inscription
the very matrix of its content.

 

JULY 26

焱文
Written of Infinite Fire

He captured just a little wisp of smoke.
Made an ink to give verse to an entire lifetime.

 

JULY 28

甜甜
Sweet Sweet

A name rolling with melons, hives of honey, fields of sugar cane…
but none sweeter than the child’s laugh.

 

JULY 30

天威
Celestial Awe

He carried no iron into battle.
When he lifted his hand,
he brandished the sky.

 

 

Read “Introduction to A Forest of Names”

Read selections from January

Read selections from February

Read selections from March

Read selections from April

Read selections from May

Read selections from June

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