Crossing The Square at Dusk

Austin Woerner

Translated from Chinese by Austin Woerner

Where does a square of a bygone era
begin? Where does it end?
Some cross in an hour, others spend
a life in the crossing:
children in the morning, at evening old men.
How long must they walk on into the sunset
before they can rest?

And how long must they gaze on into the sunset
before they can close their eyes?
When speeding cars turn on their blinding lights.
I see faces: those who once,
on a bright and beautiful morning, crossed the square—
in rearview mirrors, they flash
and disappear.
At dusk, they get in their cars and leave.

A place no one leaves is not a square.
A place where no one falls is not one either.
Those who have left will come again,
those who have fallen will stay forever.
There is a thing called stone: it piles swiftly, stands—
it is nothing like bone, does not take a century to grow
and is not so weak.

Every square has a mind of piled stone,
making the empty-handed people above
feel the weight of survival.
No lighthearted thing, to gaze up and hope with a giant’s mind of stone.
The heaviness of stone
lightens our burden of sacrifice, duty, love.

Cold and darkness rise.
Office buildings loom on all sides, dressed in the latest styles of tile and glass.
All is made miniature. The world of stone
floats lightly, reflected in the world of glass,
like a scribble in a child’s assignment book,
a small dark thought
to be crumpled and thrown away.

Cars hurtle past, fluid speed
pouring through a vast system of steel-tendoned concrete,
silence assuming the shape of a horn.
In rearview mirrors, a square of a bygone era
flashes and is gone.

Gone, forever—
an acne-covered, adolescent square, square of first loves,
a square never figured into ledgers and death counts,
a square of squared shoulders, tightened belts, rolled-up sleeves,
of washboards and hand-me-downs, stitches and patches—

a square that saw youthful blood flow outside of its veins—
a square licked and pounded, knocked by knees and foreheads, covered in flags—

an imagined square, a square that ceased to exist
as a night’s snowfall ceases at morning.
A pure and mysterious melting
glistening by turns in consciences and eyes:
one part becoming a thing called tears,
the other hardening into a thing called stone.

The world of stone has crumbled.
A cellophane world is rising now,
like water leaving mineral, creeping up a tube
into a distilled, sealed, charmingly packaged space.
And I am riding a high-speed elevator up the handle of an umbrella.

Back on earth, I look up at the rooftop restaurant
like an umbrella open in the sky above the city.
A sorcerer’s hat, its dimensions unfit
for a giant’s head of piled stone.

The arms that held up the square have let it down.
A giant props himself up with a little sword.
What will he stab? A frail revolution
once incited on paper, plastered on walls?

There is no power
that can keep two worlds pasted together for long.
A paper mind will soon be ripped down.
The gargantuan thigh of a mixed-blood model
bestrides a whitewashed wall
alongside ads for hair restoration, ads for artificial limbs.

A baby carriage stands in the twilit square,
nothing to do with a world nearing madness.
I imagine a distance of about a century
separates this baby carriage from the sunset.
A century: ruler of almost infinite length, long enough to measure
the span of solitude, the length of a shuttered era.

Fear of solitude
brings the people out of their homes, brings them pouring into the square,
turns life’s loneliest hour into a raucous holiday—
but in their darkened homes, where the gazes of love and death meet,
lies a vast empty square, heart’s hoard, shadow square
like a shuttered confessional, thing of secrets within.

Before we cross the square, must we first cross a darkness within?
Darkness’ halves have come together.
A mind of hard stone has been cleft in two.
The blade of a sword glitters in the night.

If a strange cleft night can account
for two feet on the ground, for one bright and beautiful morning—
if I am allowed to mount sun-strewn steps
and survey the giddy void from a giant’s shoulder
not that I may rise, but that I may fall—
if words engraved on gold plaques are not meant to be sung
but to be rubbed out, to be forgotten, to be trampled—

as a trampled square must one day fall upon the heads of the tramplers,
the footsteps of those who once, on a bright and beautiful morning, crossed the square
will fall upon the blade of a sword,
fall heavy, fall as a coffin’s lid must fall.
Who lies within? Not me, and not
those who tread on the blade’s edge.

I had not thought that on bright and beautiful mornings, so many
had crossed the square, sundering solitude
and eternity. I had not thought
that at dusk they would leave
or fall.

A place where no one falls is not a square.
A place where no one stands is not one either.
Did I stand? How much longer must I stand?
For I am no different from those who fell—
I am not one to live forever.

Who is Gone, and Who Remains

Dusk: the boy secrets himself in a tree-root,
eavesdropping on the innards of insects.
What he hears is not the world of insects
but the world outside: for example, innards of machines.
The setting sun turns beneath his feet like the wheel of a truck,
the boy’s father drives a truck
the truck is empty
                                        parked in an empty field.
The father gets out, and the soundless beauty of the sunset strikes him dumb.
He turns off his crying cell phone, says to the boy:
all things turning at the edge of the sky
have lips, have tongues. But they speak only amongst themselves,
erecting their ears upon this speech.
              The boy, refusing to believe in the ears of things, listens to the ears of his heart.
In truth, he is not listening at all,
but, by not listening, he overhears
a different kind of hearing—
he invents his own deafness, and soars,
rising on mute updrafts of imagination.
Behind our everyday sunset, could there be
a miracle-world alive with voices?
Could there be another boy listening, another sun
sinking in the west?
                               Staggering sky—
The world has fallen silent: a telephone rings on, unanswered.
Machines and insects cannot hear each other’s heartbeats,
and the root has been ripped from the soil.
The boy’s deafness becomes dream-vision, protocol, brogue.
The truck is broken
                                                  his father buries his head under the hood
and his mother sleeps, sunset cradled in her arms, unaware
of the coming of night, the coming of age.

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