The Beyond Black & The Carrying: Poems by Lucy Xiaochuan Liu

The Beyond Black*

The shutters are closed.

                                                                       I hear         the wings of
                                 a bird. Is it white,         grey,

I ask         for I did not know         between monochrome and disappearing 
existed such a miraculous place:
small         Algerian lighthouse,         keeper

                                                                                          in a sea of sleep.

We can for once         speak without seeing.
                                                                 For if salt and flesh 
weren’t peripheral, the buried might even have been beautiful—
his face          shown three quarters in this half light,
bare yet silk-armored with waiting, 

                                                                tide after tide. 

* Translated from the French word “Outrenoir,” “Beyond Black” is the name of the style of paintings artist Pierre Soulages created by covering his canvases completely with textured black ink or paint.

“Peinture” by Pierre Soulages, 2009.

The Carrying
                                                to speak a language in which
there is a word for twilight combing the curves of an unknown land, or 
the slit           it promised 
in the darkness,           eye of a needle
                                                                       one woman threaded through, we
all dwell by this small pond, 
and some cold nights, we yearn to flee our           red, pulsating rooms,  to 
roam the woods                                      
                                  for a clearing of untouched snow.
This world our shack, a shelter           named no shelter.           Say 
ice, say wound, say survivor.
                                                        The woman rips off her coat, boots and jade bangle, dancing 
away, even her thoughts wiped out by oblivious flakes.
On the grey prairie
                               only our tree of thorns blooms, its branches 
fissuring all the light, the skyline, pale
                                                          white, tinged with gold, under a sheet of obsidian
All of this life we’ve been nailing           houses             
for shade           and for pining, hands 
heavy with scars. 

“Untitled(self portrait)” by Francesca Woodman, 1980

Author’s Note:

On a damp, wintry day in Paris, I had just closed the shutters when I heard the beating of the wings of a bird springing into flight outside. In that instance, I thought of Pierre Soulages’ abstract paintings created by covering the canvas with textured black paint. In both circumstances, I could not identify pictorial information through vision, but experienced, sensorily, a sentiment even more refined and beautiful. This process of being denied one way of interpretation and given an alternative also struck me as a moment of hope and unexpected delight. 

While being a poet as well as an artist feels like having my feet on separate floes as these two temperaments in me drift apart dangerously into each of their unknowns at times, I have always reconciled them in serendipitous moments of revelation when I suddenly see a piece of art in a new light because I found a parallel of it in poetry. 

Motivated to harness the powers of this internal tension, I gave myself an ongoing prompt to write a group of ekphrastic poems about hope, and here are two of them.

About the author

Lucy Xiaochuan Liu is an artist and poet. She is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship and is an artist in residence at Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. She is the author of the award-winning poetry chapbook The Rye of Pondering, selected by poet Cameron Awkward-Rich and published by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her writings and art have been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife MagazineParis Lit Up Magazine, Columbia Journal, Smith College Museum of Art, and the Massachusetts Five College Poetry Festival. She has been featured in poetry readings at Amherst College, The Emily Dickinson Museum and Unnameable Books. She is currently a rising senior at Smith College, majoring in Studio Art and French.

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