A Forest of Names (October) 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.]

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

 

OCTOBER 6

龍強
Dragon-vigor

Tell us what was written with your shadow.

Long after the cicada’s song enters autumn’s soil,
the brittle husks that once held their singing bodies
still hold dearly to the branches
where they once sang.

 

OCTOBER 10

藝豪
Heroic Art

He kneads the earth
and earth measures his absence.

Studies of impossible form
rise above brittle structures
of our failing.

 

OCTOBER 11

芯儀
Ceremonial Heart

Flame above the candle’s black wick.
Wax fills with the light of its own burning.

 

OCTOBER 12


Butterfly

Autumn wings, the wind.
Somewhere there’s a tree,
whose every leaf dreams of flight.

 

OCTOBER 13

鋒光
Spear Point’s Glimmer

The point itself cut a hole into darkness,
so the rest of the body could bathe in light.

 

OCTOBER 14

世杰
Era of the Burning Tree

This is how we see
heroes: someone on fire,
but not consumed by flame.

 

OCTOBER 15

義恆
Lasting Justice

A name never answered.

Each time the case is made,
the moon-white heart
drifts beyond the ridgeline.

 

OCTOBER 18

雲琴
Cloud Zither

A silk-white anvil
resonant across the blue sky.

Pillar of Earth.
Pillar of Heaven.

Jade, fallen from the highest peaks,
weeps in the pool of sound.

 

OCTOBER 21

傳宇
Conduit of the Universe

The shuttle passes back and forth,
the bobbin turns within.

The white sail, woven strand by strand,
fills with ash-black wind.

 

OCTOBER 22

芊榆
Luxuriant Elm

A thousand leaves quivering yes, yes.
And the boat, dreaming of water,
grows within the tree.

 

OCTOBER 24

坤益
Earth’s Excess

At the brimming basin
he asked the earth god
why her body trembled,

why his childhood was cut short.

 

OCTOBER 26

璐妍
Beautiful as an Open Road

Held for years, the jade
gradually became translucent.
Clouds dispersed from within the stone,

as did the paths traced in meditation.

 

OCTOBER 29


Possible

Cup and plate get set each evening.

 

OCTOBER 30

萌科
Sprouting Scholar

The smallest leaf calls out to sun and moon.
It, too, is a student of light.

 

OCTOBER 31

竟敬
Unexpected Honor

Born into unscored music,
the lute still trembles with autumn leaves.

 
 
 

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

A Forest of Names — August selections

A Forest of Names — September selections

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