The American Journal of Poetry
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Ricardo Pau-Llosa

Hiroshige, Ōiso


                         8th station in 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō, 1831-34

Need, however natural, taxes our patience.
Our lord has planted trees to shade and feed
our path, hackberry and pine, but when the rains
come, the coverings and hats we wove from reeds

are no help. By bails and bundles we teach
our lives to mean; by steps our journeys mark
how we are spent on roads that never reach
their end. We enter them and depart

and we obey and trade, carry and disown
as if we too were spoiling cargo. We plot
our humble get-by. A meager village is home
for the storm, grateful warmth, a pot

with almost soup. So little is so much.
With two steps we know enough to judge.



Ricardo Pau-Llosa

Hiroshige, Kanaya


                         24th station in 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō, 1831-34

A season tips its hand with cresting waters,
or so the travelers surmise, for what else
could explain the lack of a bridge across these tatters
that once a reeded bank so calmly pulsed?

From afar an artist watches the servants stripped,

flushed from struggle in winter thaw, their master
hoisted and his luggage too. They drop like shells
on the final sand, blank as if it were
a sea. Were these obedients not here to tell

the ground from open tide, our eyes, adrift

in distance would wager coast and fishing hamlet
and wonder in reckless poise how maps could get
it so wrong and be trusted still. A palette
minds the lost that currents soon forget.



Ricardo Pau-Llosa

Ogata Kōrin, Red and White Plum Blossoms, c. 1714


Three rivers have I; the curves reveal them,
though only one is brave enough to call
himself a river. Ignore the hero; pretend
he too is mystery. In fact, in all

creation, so few things hide perfectly
from the name we give them. ‘Tree’ is far from sight
though we can touch it, shelter rain and daily
sway from sweat. Getting its bark right

meant dripping paint on wet paint
until a turbulence disclosed its jewel condition.
Then it taught the constant flow constraint.
Blossom, the stream retorted, was the mission

of his desperate brood. They seek the pond of death
and petals where future wrestles them to rest.
The tree took refuge from the aimless swirls
to boast the lineage signed by jagged words

the branches jotted on the golden earth. The infinite
is a language, too, and not the sum of distances.
But river blinded on, a road above an intricate
innocence. And though he mocks dizziness,

each curl foretells the knotted grains a tree
becomes. I fall but am never felled,
his tactile scroll asserts. They then agreed
to be the spirits of the day, time compelled

but moment’s rebels. Two seasons will guard
their station in this painting whose mottled trunks
tell half the story and leave to loom the part
where none step twice. Petals in place of husks.



Ricardo Pau-Llosa

The Mystery of Immediacy


                    on the poetics of Tadao Ando

There is an invisible fulcrum between cause and effect,
called architecture. Causality is enigma
for its host is intuition, not reason.
When approaching, in and through a building, reject
the model of the mind erected in wood or stone.
What seeks shelter is the moment, prismed magma,

current tamed. To think and be thought--pause,
its revenue and requisite. The skin of concrete shimmers
like water stolen from five in the afternoon.
The planes free and deny the path of loss
welcoming. One window in one space whispers
the sacred, unveils it as a whisper to those for whom

music is a forensic pleasure. Steps return
us to planes--the sun, thought’s nocturne.




RICARDO PAU-LLOSA's 8th book will be out next year from Carnegie Mellon, his longtime publisher. His work has, or will appear, in American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Stand, Ambit, New England Review, Boston Review, PRISM international, Plume, Ekphrasis, Island, Vayavya, Ilanot Review, Colorado Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and others.



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