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Recorded at the Chancellors Reading, Poets Forum, New York City, 2014
About this Poem 

“I’ve never written a poem about the act of composing a poem before, but early one morning this poem happened to do that. As an old compass may have a magnetized needle that pivots back and forth until it stops at north, the speaker sifts through observations to still at something unrecognized before.”

—Arthur Sze

Stilling to North

Just as a blue tip of a compass needle
stills to north, you stare at a pencil

with sharpened point, a small soapstone
bear with a tiny chunk of turquoise

tied to its back, the random pattern
of straw flecked in an adobe wall;

you peruse the silver poplar branches,
the spaces between branches, and as

a cursor blinks, situate at the edge
of loss—the axolotl was last sighted

in Xochimilco over twenty years ago;
a jaguar meanders through tawny

brush in the Gila Wilderness—
and, as the cursor blinks, you guess

it’s a bit of line that arcs—a parsec
made visible—and as you sit,

the imperfections that mark you
attune you to a small emptied flask

tossed to the roadside and the x,
never brewed, that throbs in your veins.

Copyright @ 2014 by Arthur Sze. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 4, 2014.

Copyright @ 2014 by Arthur Sze. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on June 4, 2014.

Arthur Sze

Arthur Sze

Born in New York City in 1950, Arthur Sze is the author of nine books of poetry, including Compass Rose (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). He currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
Here a snail on a wet leaf shivers and dreams of spring.
Here a green iris in December.
Here the topaz light of the sky.
Here one stops hearing a twig break and listens for deer.
Here the art of the ventriloquist.
Here the obsession of a kleptomaniac to steal red
poem
Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare

searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the
poem

I gaze at the Pacific and don’t expect
to ever see the heads on Easter Island,

though I guess at sunlight rippling
the yellow grasses sloping to shore;

yesterday a doe ate grass in the orchard:
it lifted its ears and stopped eating

when it sensed us watching from
a glass