Looking Beneath the Sentence’s Wing; 1989

Wendy Xu


What I saw there;
the grasses streams trees                      rivers stones mountains
                   the pale orange crystal pulled from the rock face
               the wayward clots of white and lavender clouds

luminescent jellyfish                        the inlet criss-crossed by birds
the silver sheen of water                   children marking it with fists

            and winds unbound by municipal borders sheltering me
                                                                                           tender heartedly
needle-nose pines in a damp field stinging the air
                   covetous old knots on a string

                                           still tied to my grandfather’s big toe in Shandong
rough and green flowers falling

in a long tradition
over his body

                                         and my father straining his red-tipped ears 
                                         towards an American middle ground
the dark sermon of those early years                    crisis of distance
                                                      and wild power of my mother—
                           wild new discipline that nonetheless held

                                                                            back feverishly her tongue


Wendy Xu’s most recent collection is Phrasis, named one of the Ten Best Poetry Books of 2017 by The New York Times Book Review. She teaches writing at The New School. 

Image: “Knoop.” Anonymous. c. 1590 - c. 1596. From The Rijksmuseum.