Kevin Murphy

Retired Professor, Literatures in English

Title

From the moment the painter affixed the character ya (dumb) on his door, he did not speak a word to anyone, and yet he was fond of merriment and still fonder of drinking. If anyone invited him to drink, he would tuck in his chin, clap his hands, and give a ringing laugh. He also took pleasure in diversions such as "hide the tumbler" and finger games.
--Shao Ch'ang-heng



The rock is slowly turning to air.
The bird, perched at the crag, leans
into the grained sea of rice paper
and skews its glance skyward.
There is nothing else. Everything centers
in the crazed pupil of the bird.
Its beak is almost invisible,
directing us back to the cross-eyed stare.
Its feathers reappear as flames
in the rock's base, and the bird's dark hump
gathers and lightens its load of stone.
The bird's grip on the rock is clear
black, and the head above and around
the eye is deepest jet.
The graying rock, the bird's dark mind,
and the increasing white space all pivot
in the pupil's asymmetrical tilt:
the bird concentrates, and the rock diminishes.


Chu Ta, hermit of the hill and neighborhood drunk,
what drove you to this height?
Your father dead, the state in ruins,
you shore your head, climbed deep
within your voice, and scaled the mountain.
In the eye of that bird,
you brood, you brood.

Staring blankly at your ink on paper,
I sink into my words.
Inward saint, antic tenant of the vacant roost,
humor my rigid fingers straining the empty air,
my knuckled talons mortared to a dark stone.
Unfold the wings of this paradox:
lift me to light.


after Chu Ta's "Bird on a Rock: ink on paper, 1692"