Arthur Sze

Circumference & Earthrise
November 19, 2019 Sze Arthur



Vanilla farmers in Madagascar sit in the dark with rifles;
at 2 a.m., after a thunderstorm,


I lurch down the hallway and check the oak floor
under a skylight, place a towel


in a pan. I am not armed, waiting for a blue string
to trip a thief, but listen


in the hush at a point where ink flows out of a pen
onto a white Sahara of a page.


Adjusting the rearview mirror in the car before backing
out of the garage, I ask, what


is the logarithm of a dream? How do you trace a sphere
whose center is nowhere?


It is hard to believe farmers pollinate vanilla orchids
with toothpick-sized needles,


yet we do as needed; pouring syrup on a pancake,
I catch the scent of vines,


race along the circumference, sensing what it’s like to sit
in the dark with nothing in my hands.




Zoom in to pink bougainvillea in an iron-
glazed pot, along the edge of a still pool;

beyond tiled roofs below, surf crashes
against black lava rock; palm fronds

ripple in the air. Miners in an open pit
slog through sludge, panning for gold;

when they find a nugget, a foreman
seizes it; is there no end to mire

and exploitation from a patch of ground?
In a wheelchair, an eighty-year-old man

proclaims, “Go in and hit them hard.”
Hit who hard? From the air, a coastline

dotted with golf courses and sand traps,
white-capping surf, a cloud forest,

five volcanoes rising out of the ocean,
a shrinking island, earthrise from the moon.


Arthur Sze’s eleventh book of poetry, The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon, 2021)
received a 2024 National Book Foundation Science + Literature Award. His new book, The Silk Dragon II: Translations
of Chinese Poetry
, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon in April.