top of page



by Angelo Mao



Here by the dirty river where people have come from, a silt and slime sliver as still as a gaze, birds have returned, and from ponds, overgrowing weeds are pulled out and burned. It is an artificial landscape, an artificial water, stones not to believe in, air for the slaughter, but even here, the torn net of bird-chirpery has closed again, around and now over an artifice. Birds, birdsong have returned, and from the ponds, those bonds between water and not enough death, those overgrowing weeds are pulled out, burned.


Ribbon of throat, maggot of air, singer of an outsized song that serves to find you a mate, whether there is pride in it, whether there is coquetry, we will believe it, but could you ever sing into yourself as we do, winding into a snail shell after the ants have reached the deepest coil, and past that, past that aperture, germs clean to a wick white, immune to sunlight until broken open? Is that what this muttering wants, to break open, to convince, because plain day never stops being a thing no law can undo, all these rules set down without an arbiter, so what does singing do, this kind of singing?



What is a bird? How much does it cost? How much does its cage cost? They used to sell them around the river, dry wicker cages, dried ribs like parallel construction. They used to sell them before I was born. How much did one cost? How much would it cost not to be silent, to speculate? You don't speak for yourself. Abandon the project. Get into the cage. Go back. Write about what you know. Tell me, can one lower the voice to enough silence that the whole world can be heard, even the windings inside of this body can be heard, and finally we know what stepped onto the park grounds and makes an about-face, turns around, takes turns?


It turns out we knew nothing about the birds that have returned to the ponds, nor the ponds themselves, artificial as slaughter, whose overgrowing weeds are pulled out each night and burned. (Who does the burning? Where do they put the ashes?) Late night, walking home by the re-growing, re-heightening reeds, I saw one bird hop branch to branch, like all of its kind baring a fantastically large breast, a rust red quarrel with air. I stopped to look.



I wandered in the third world, on Tagatha's thousandth glorious word,

and later saw the sun-moon rock on the Isle of Flowers and Fruit,


and it was only summer 1994, when the Chinese chairs were too tall,

and the largest cicadas I'd ever seen were eavesdropping my reading


of the only claim I have on my confused history.


But who are you I've picked?

I'd forgotten how to be a virgin.

I've only your story, the version

you popped from a rock and were

Monkey King. You entered

that cool tomb of beauty,

and was communion what you felt?

Leap first, Sun Wukong—feel,

moon flashed in the creek,

not dominion, but boy-apes

dancing. Whom did you catch?

Between the pages, you caught;

between pages that were real because

they smelled sweet in summer 1994.


And in the end, you confronted

Tagatha. Tagatha! you cried,

O piece of air, I know you,

your emptiness I can well do

should I choose—but hadn't I

found a smile on the street

to circumscribe a beauty

that dharma has no name for?

But the story did contain a name—

and Sun Wukong gone off, gone

beyond and completely beyond.

O pure-mind place, clapped heart,

July was loveless, August dim,

and September flew me home.

Angelo Mao is a biomedical engineering research scientist. His poetry has appeared recently in Lana Turner, Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, and Web Conjunctions.

bottom of page