from THE PEONY NOTEBOOK
Red enveloped in a reddish light. Facing me, only half the peony. The other half hidden in the impenetrable obsidian of this nocturnal return. Thus, half-open, the divided flower invited me to detach the flame from its flame. And I didn't do it, mortally wounded by the kind of weariness that had separated me from that apparition. I asked myself, of course, what fire would burn in the invisible part of the flower. What letter of fate would have been inscribed in that zone forbidden to me. What part of me would have been consumed by that aroma, in that unreachable dampness? Like being at the gates of a city impenetrable in the beauty of its half-light, but that now you would have no interest in entering, because you know that there's nothing there.
Here I merely note the red and black: colors of the final dream.
Los Angeles, October 2011
At the stroke of a midnight in 1765, Master Ito Jakuchu discovered the unstable temperature traversing the territory of the flower that breathed in the half-light. It's not clear if the discovery occurred in one of his dreams or in one of that Summer's vigils. What's important for us is the detailed record he made of that vision, the first of the 27 that he gathered under the title Images of the Colorful Kingdom of Living Beings. There is a violent stillness in the petal, an immobile turbulence that spreads its phosphorescent venom like a wave washing over the onlooker's nervous system. Time changes from snow to flame and flame to clotted blood. Daiten Kenjo, poet-friend of Ito's, noticed this, and named the painting Beautiful Mist and Fragrant Wind. A luminous, revealing mist, an iridescent wind that causes what it touches to boil. Time like the peony, like the peony that melts within our eye.
In the powerful unfolded petal he could see its fall, and in its fall his own disintegration. Could not this early image from the pen of the poet Bai Juyi be his first lesson of beauty? Since we will never know beauty entirely, however, the poet gathered from the soil of the Empty Gate a handful of those petals. He sent them to his friend, the Buddhist monk Wang, to learn whether another answer to the infinite enigma locked in that flower could be found.
We have no record of the monk's reply.
Here I leave the flaming peony, burning in its transparent flame. Unfolded in the darknesses of its aroma. A Wound. I leave the peony free in the blind water of this night. I entrust it—like a light perhaps never to be seen again—to the time of this moment that melts away as I write.
I leave it here, illuminated.
The outline of the map is made on the upper pole of an egg with the tip of a hair. It's a secret garden of Suzhou, known to a few for the rarity of its peonies. The garden of the master of nets, according to the tiny letters on the gate. At the far edge of the eastern side, on the shore of the lake, the melancholy walker, touched by a thirst for clarity and a yearning for oblivion, will find the Cabin of Belated Spring. Because of its remote location, it's the best place to witness the moment when the petals unfold. Its name comes from a verse by Su Dongpo: “Only the peony flowers even in a late Spring.” It's said that the solitary wanderer will find there what he looks for, once the last flower of the year has dissolved into the air.
Carefully I raise the object and for a moment inspect it in silhouette. It's orange, almost blood-colored. Then I drop it onto the surface of the pond. The egg, and the tiny garden, sink slowly into the green water.
The cage fits in the hollow of your hand. It's an imperial prison made especially for a fighting cricket. Delicately carved out of red wood, a peony spreads its petals in a labyrinth with no exit. Stamped with the year 1725, the cage belonged to Prince Bao, before his ascension to the throne in 1732 as Emperor Qianlong. The prince kept in it his favorite insect, a cricket with a purple head that never lost a single one of its innumerable matches.
They say that on the shortest night of the year its song can be heard escaping through the holes in the lid. They assure us that the cricket waits still for the gate to be opened to face its final battle.
And that those who have ever been a prisoner of the flower may live forever.
© Antonio Martínez
Gaspar Orozco was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1971. His books of poetry include Abrir fuego (Mexico City: Tierra Adentro, 2000), El silencio de lo que cae (Mexico City:Programa Editorial de la Coordinación de Humanidades, UNAM, 2000), Notas del país de Z (bilingual, translation by Mark Weiss) (Chihuahua: Universidad Autónoma de Chuihuahua, 2009), Astrodiario (El Paso: Bagatela, 2010), Autocinema (Mexico Citty: Conaculta 2010) and Plegarias a la Reina Mosca (Monterrey: Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, 2011). Memorial de la peonía / Peony Notebook is forthcoming from Esfera de papel in 2013, in a bilingual edition translated by Mark Weiss.
Mark Weiss has published seven collections of poetry, most recently As Landscape (Chax Press, 2010) and Dark Season (Least Weasel, 2011). Different Birds appeared as an ebook in 2004 (www.shears- man.com). He edited, with Harry Polkinhorn, Across the Line/ Al otro lado: The Poetry of Baja California (Junction, 2002) Among his translations are Stet: Selected Poems of José Kozer (Junction, 2006), Notas del país de Z, by Gaspar Orozco (Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua, 2009), and the ebook La isla en peso / The Whole Island, by Virgilio Piñera (2010, www.shearsman.com). His bilingual anthology The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry was published in 2009 by the University of California Press.