Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Landscape in the Style of Li Cheng

Mark Sullivan
From Prairie Schooner, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Winter 2010)

What if you could breathe into words what happens
during the quiet relinquishments of rain in the city,
the deepening grays and the hard surfaces ringing?
Or that fall when my roommate would come home
from the restaurant at midnight and we would go
running through the empty streets, then along the river,
which was also like a street silkened with oil
and drizzle, wet embellishments of neon.
Night air and the vague feeling of risk as
the few dots of strangers grew larger to the sound
of our slapping feet. All of it just to get
the world more inside us, as we smoked to
recreate the movies in the seedy theaters of
our lungs. Imagine the ridiculous youth, aching
knees from improper shoes, then the calm
as the endorphin rush washed island resorts
into our neuroreceptors. Later the pizza at
an all-night place in Central Square, foamy beer
in plastic cups. You could tell it was mercy
by the way nothing happened; so in Allegri’s
Miserere the soprano’s highest supplications lead
to no continuation, only a metered hush. And cleanse
me of my wrongdoing
, then the counted silence
that is the space separating words. Making that what
purifies, the way the ancient Chinese painter
placed the solitary temple among clearing peaks,
brushing it onto silk that age conserves in
the color of industrial atmosphere. The storm has
just lifted; a tiny man on a donkey is about to cross
a bridge into the village clustered on a low slope.
In the huts people are, I think, boiling rice for
supper, though it’s hard to tell through the murk
of time. The mountains looming and layering
beyond. Vast, encompassing, and those lives like water
where it pools, finding its level, doubling the extent.