Calligrapher (1966)

In a quiet reverie my left hand,
In a quiet reverie tracing a mortar circle on glass, my left hand
Grinds the black in while my right hand
Rests, fallen into a leopard’s grace of waiting,
Composing itself for the shaping of an ideal form
Glimpsed with a tantalus delight in the twilight of the mind’s search
            and the heart’s recognition,
A shape fluid as water, strict as a crisp enunciation
Uttered against all hazard out of the strong tradition of Hsing Shu.
The left hand dreams in its motion, the right hand rests in its stillness,
The mind, composed and quiet with the turning motion and motionless
Meditates examples of excellence and dwells (though it shouldn’t)
On the hope that my old companion will extend his wry approval –
He who in gorgeous robes – did I dream this? – in a mountain setting
(our serving men discreetly at a distance, and the air still)
Once presented to me in deference some writing of his own and asked
            me for some of mine.
Will my mind today grow quiet enough and strong enough in its
            concentrated ease
To impel from the shoulder with swashbuckling force in one lyrical sweep
The act of insolent grace, body and mind, that moves a mountain and
            makes a poem of these characters.
Springing like a shout from heart, eye, and hand, and the secret places that
            love springs from, and
Gathered into a great impetuous outburst of drunken largeness and
            biblical severity.
And what, resting and revolving, shall I compose or frame
In the mind’s eye and out of the heart’s crevices?
 Some well-turned and memorable compliment? An exercise in virtuosity?
A royal turn of phrase perhaps, touching beauty or the turning of the seasons,
Or the numb and inarticulate grief of time and the ancient hauntings of regret,
Or absence in some desolate place, or the tongue silenced by the dignity
            of the heart?
Or shall I write of the terrible stone violence done to Hui-tsung.
Though his writing Slender Gold bears witness yet to the meticulous
Eloquence of his measured movement and speech – that tall imperial
            figure, slender as his brush-strokes, a young man, learned and skillful
For time has also laid rough hands on Ikhnaton and his beautiful queen
Consigning the City of the Sun to the lizard, the painted brushes, and incised scarabs,
            and the silent mockery of stone hawks.
But there must be a moment when my right hand fully rested must venture forth, sooner
or later, time or no time.
There must be sooner or later a moment when it has composed itself into imperial or
            bombastic certitude, and can say
Something momentous and something old, as wounding as an unbroken promise, say –
Ten characters: “Wind, rain, home; a foreign place; the thought of home is fire;
A friend, a lover; wine is fire; the heart.” Shall I say this? – declaring thereby
That we grow old in the wind and rain, that home is a place we always leave,
That we suffer alone always, and come upon death alone, and tread down sorrow
            as best we can
So that the heart may flower and all desire in the end be chastened? No wonder
The right hand rests like an idle leopard, and my old writing friend is quizzical;
No wonder my left hand dreams and delays in its long circular reverie as
though the ink were stone and the water a black ice that refuses to flow.
When the spirit of Mi Fei strides silently across the still landscape of my mind,
Pot-bellied, yet sure-footed as an athlete under the towering weight or that
            high dome of his brow,
His shirt flying open throat to navel, enclosed in the splendor of his thought,
I know that the whiskers on the nose of a short-legged pony or the texture of
            rabbit fur or hawk feathers at a saddle bow
Are imperishably true, that here if nowhere else there is a possible matching
            of the hand’s perfection to the cunning duplicity of the eye.