A Late Elegy For Wang Hui-Ming
“I don’t believe in culinary celibacy,”
He was telling me, the oil heated to a sizzle
In the wok, the shrimp already shelled.
His second love, this serious kitchen.
I’d watched him peeling broccoli stems
With his small exacting knife, slicing them
On the bias into a pile. He could have been
Working on one of his woodcuts, fluting
The radish of a flower out of the grain,
Or on a page for one of his block books,
Its crowded field of figures and calligraphy.
He’d even carved a poem into the bark
Of one of Robert Francis’s red maples
Where the letters would fatten with time--
FOUR TAO PHILOSOPHERS AS CEDAR WAXWINGS--
The life of the poem the life of the tree.
“Steam over rice,” he was saying with a nod,
“An image of ch’i,” flattening the shrimp
With a thump of the cleaver, tumbling
The stems all at once into the oil.
This was Amherst, winter, an early dark,
His chiseled letters bezeled by the bark.
ROBERT GIBB’s books include After, which won the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017. Other awards include a National Poetry Series title (The Origins of Evening), two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry and a Pushcart Prize.
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