Linda Sue Park
Picturing the Words
If I had wandered about for a while
I know I would have found them
crouched intently over a patch of mud,
slender sticks in their hands.
I might have been the one
who, after numerous attempts,
etched a man carrying a huge load
or two hands lifting the bar of a gate
or two men sitting back to back
on top of the world
And I'd have enjoyed the noisy discussion,
the distilling of chryselephantine words
to their simplest selves
to 'mother' and 'child'
to 'rice stalk' with 'open mouth'
to 'tongue' and 'water'
But I would have stared in silence,
muddied my finger tracing the strokes,
the pulse in my throat making me feel
too shy to look directly
at the man who took 'winter'
and married it to 'thread'
When the Last Panda Died
When the last panda died I wasn't there
to hold my son, who as a boy got an A
on his fourth-grade science report—
choose an animal describe features
habitat diet breeding any other Facts
Of Interest extra credit for maps
and pictures—which started him
collecting, first a resin figurine
then t-shirts, posters, big and small
stuffed ones, his favorite mediumsized
beanfilled named what else Bamboo
which he slept with every night
in his room, black and white everywhere
until he begged for a trip to the zoo
in DC so he could see the real ones
Mei-xiang and Tian-tian snuffle
and roll and eat eat eat; back home
online he'd check how many were left
in the wild and say, don't let them
die out Mommy, don't let them go
extinct, as if somehow I had the power—
but he's an old man now;
even if I were around he probably
wouldn't want me to hold him
on my lap and let him cry and cry
the way I always knew he would cry
when the last panda died.
—Inishmore, off Galway, Ireland
Clusters of mussels caught
and cemented in mid-swarm.
An oyster barely open, its frill
of tissue straining the green air.
The drowsy grace of anemones.
The child moves nothing
but breath. It is hers now,
this sunken universe, silent with life:
A crab, menacing in its beady-eyed helmet;
crayfish wielding translucent claws;
sea-urchins, their needles sweet
with the wicked promise of a dare.
A single fingertip breaks the tension.
Those with the gift of movement vanish—
to where? She might have dreamed them
but for the skirl of sand that shows
she is neither alone nor asleep.
The cries of seabirds dissolve unheard.
Flat on her stomach, chin on her hands,
she reads for hours, a book without pages,
trading time for wonder.