Sight Lines

Sight Lines

by Arthur Sze


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Winner of the 2019 National Book Award

“The sight lines in Sze’s 10th collection are just that―imagistic lines strung together by jump-cuts, creating a filmic collage that itself seems to be a portrait of simultaneity.” ― The New York Times

From the current phenomenon of drawing calligraphy with water in public parks in China to Thomas Jefferson laying out dinosaur bones on the White House floor, from the last sighting of the axolotl to a man who stops building plutonium triggers, Sight Lines moves through space and time and brings the disparate and divergent into stunning and meaningful focus. In this new work, Arthur Sze employs a wide range of voices—from lichen on a ceiling to a man behind on his rent—and his mythic imagination continually evokes how humans are endangering the planet; yet, balancing rigor with passion, he seizes the significant and luminous and transforms these moments into riveting and enduring poetry.

“These new poems are stronger yet and by confronting time head on, may best stand its tests.” ― Lit Hub

“The wonders and realities of the world as seen through travel, nature walks, and daily routine bring life to the poems in Sight Lines.” ― Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556595592
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 04/09/2019
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 82,511
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Arthur Sze is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a National Book Award winner, and recipient of fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Read an Excerpt


Deer browse at sunrise in an apple orchard,

while honey locust leaves litter the walk.

A neighbor hears gunshots in the bosque

and wonders who's firing at close range;

I spot bear prints near the Pojoaque River

but see no sign of the reported mountain lion.

As chlorophyll slips into the roots of a cottonwood

and the leaves burst into yellow gold, I wonder,

where's our mortal flare? You can travel

to where the Tigris and Euphrates flow together

and admire the inventions of people living

on floating islands of reeds; you can travel

along an archipelago and hike among volcanic

pools steaming with water and sulfuric acid;

but you can't change the eventual, adamant body.

Though death might not come like a curare-

dipped dart blown out of a tube or slam

at you like surf breaking over black lava rock,

it will come—it will come—and it unites us—

brother, sister, boxer, spinner—in this pact,

while you inscribe a letter with trembling hand.

Westbourne Street

Porch light illuminating white steps, light

over a garage door, darkness inside windows—

and the darkness exposes the tenuous.

A glass blower shapes a rearing horse

that shifts, on a stand, from glowing orange

to glistening crystal; suddenly the horse

shatters into legs, head, body, mane.

At midnight, “Fucking idiot!” a woman yells,

shaking the house; along a hedge,

a man sleeps, coat over head, legs sticking out;

and, at 8 am, morning glories open

on a fence; a backhoe heads up the street.

From this window, he views banana leaves,

an orange tree with five oranges, house

with shingled roofs, and steps leading

to an upstairs apartment; farther off, palm trees,

and, beyond, a sloping street, ocean, sky;

but what line of sight leads to revelation?

Black Center

Green tips of tulips are rising out of the earth—

you don’t flense a whale or fire at beer cans

in an arroyo but catch the budding

tips of pear branches and wonder what

it’s like to live along a purling edge of spring.

Jefferson once tried to assemble a mastodon

skeleton on the White House floor but,

with pieces missing, failed to sequence the bones;

when the last speaker of a language dies,

a hue vanishes from the spectrum of visible light.

Last night, you sped past revolving and flashing

red, blue, and white lights along the road—

a wildfire in the dark; though no one

you knew was taken in the midnight ambulance,

an arrow struck a bull’s eye and quivered

in its shaft: one minute gratitude rises

like water from an underground lake,

another dissolution gnaws from a black center.

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