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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

The path was purple in the dusk.
I saw an owl, perched,
on a branch.
And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings. I was
silent then. And felt
the owl quaver. And at dawn, waking,
the path was green in the
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
Redwinged blackbirds in the cattail pond—
today I kicked and flipped a wing 
in the sand and saw it was a sheared 
off flicker's. Yesterday's rain has left 
snow on Tesuque Peak, and the river 
will widen then dwindle. We step 
into a house and notice antlers mounted 
on the wall behind us; a ten-day-old