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About this Poem 

“‘Preface to the Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion’ is loosely adapted from a 4th-century masterpiece of calligraphy by Wang Xizhi. The original poem describes a gathering of poets, and speculates about how future generations will look back on their efforts.”

Nick Lantz

Preface to the “Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion”

In the late spring of 1985,
we met in the weedy lot of the Orchid Pavilion Nursery
for a little ritual purification.

Everyone came, all the half-brothers and half-sisters,
the children not yet born,
and men so old they were young again.

We sat beside the aqueduct, and gold cans of beer
floated down to us
like the lines of poems.

The end of the twentieth century hung over
us like a cartoon anvil, but the breeze
that day was a knife so sharp

you couldn’t feel it cutting pieces off of you.
But then, when it’s sunny, no one remembers
how quickly a century turns over.

Our mothers always said that living and dying
ran on the same business model,
that one hand washed the other.

But how to tell that to the rat whose whiskers
will be bound into the brush
that inks these very lines about him?

No, there’s no use pretending the tears our mothers wept
over newborn babies and the dead
were even the same species of water.

Copyright © 2015 by Nick Lantz. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2015 by Nick Lantz. Used with permission of the author.

Nick Lantz

Nick Lantz

Nick Lantz is the author of How to Dance as the Roof Caves In (Graywolf Press, 2014). He teaches at Sam Houston State University and lives in Huntsville, Texas.

by this poet

It's fast and cool as running water, the way we forget
the names of friends with whom we talked and talked
the long drives up and down the coast.

I say I love and I love and I love. However, the window
will not close. However, the hawk searches
for its nest after a storm. However, the

A horse hair falls into the water and grows into an eel.
     Even Aristotle believed that frogs
                                formed from mud,
that mice sprouted like seedlings in the damp hay.

     I used to believe the world spoke
                           in code. I lay awake