A Forest of Names (November) 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. hand touching the names of the 5,196 school children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Photograph by Ian Boyden.

Detail from Ai Weiwei: Fault Line. hand touching the names of the 5,196 school children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Photograph by Ian Boyden.

 
 
NOVEMBER 3

宗麗
Ancestor of Beauty

This alter within the antlers of a living deer—
lightning cloaked in velvet.

 

NOVEMBER 4

溪玲
Mountain Stream Ringing Jade

She plucked the strings of cold water,
each green sound calling: now, now, now.

 

NOVEMBER 8

維斯
Held Together As Such

The bird’s silk thread binds the sky.
And still the axe,
a question that is also its answer.

 

NOVEMBER 9

英杰
Distinguished Flower

He called to the butterflies.
This field, he said, is filled with heroes.

 

NOVEMBER 11

耀
Dazzle

The name
a feather’s crossing over into light.
The wing
as much an answer as the eye.

 

NOVEMBER 14

成飛
To Become Flight

The sweet light of such becoming—
persimmons litter the ground of a forgotten garden.

 

NOVEMBER 15


Observe

A grey-blue bodhisattva
with a thousand wings
each with a thousand feathers,
stands utterly still.

With eyes of a child
it attends to the flowing world.

 

NOVEMBER 18


Longevity Wave

Scattered spume upon the shore—
the fore-edge of a book
we’ve never learned to read.

And yet, its pages
written with salt, iron, oxygen.

To read this book
is to read blood
from a pumping lung
to its fore-edge
upon the tongue.

Our lineage part ocean,
our language part wave.
Our reading binds
our scattering.

There are no fault lines within water.

Each name a shoreline.
Each shoreline
an invitation to read
into our own dissolution.

 

NOVEMBER 21

柏旭
Cyprus Dawn

The ancient tree white with dew.
Again, the sun strips
these delicate clothes of mourning.

 

NOVEMBER 25

詩蕓
Poem of Rue

The royal library
filled with clouds of dried rue
Insects must go elsewhere
to read poetry

 

純權
Simple Right

The simple right of a child
not to fear sovereignty.

 

NOVEMBER 27

鴻鋼
Swan & Steel

White feathers scattered in the expanse.
An empty sky hardened by the furnaces.

 

NOVEMBER 28

星雨
Star Rain

Each drop a lens
holding a universe of light.

Must we still speak of wet and dry?

 

NOVEMBER 30

園鹏
Orchard Peng

The great bird danced on the flowering branches
as if it would never return to taste the fruit.

 
 
 

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

A Forest of Names — October selections

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