who was killed while working on a giant steel pylon supporting massive power lines suspended over the Wei He River north of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, the People’s Republic of China, in the fall of 1985:
I still now as I did then wonder
What it must have looked like to you incandescent
Eyeballs ribboned with blue fire and below you spreading
All horizon, the city slowly pulsed, hot and dusty for this late in the year,
Everyone says so.
Who knows, who will ever know what caused your fatal spark,
The brilliant arc that clenched you tight, convulsed in one long spasm when
Everything inside you jammed up with electricity rampant and when
You began to smolder, I wondered then as I still do now if you even noticed
You were on fire?
The river bridge was jammed both ways, typical post-revolutionary rush hour and
A quarter of a million people stopped their bicycles and put one leg on the pavement so they could safely stare up goggle-eyed and open-mouthed at something different, at
A man two hundred feet in the air who twitched and blackened and
Was never coming down.
The wrongness of this all is huge, and still now as then I consider what it must seem
To you there among the wires thrumming harsh, the river silver and thin along the wide sandy bottom, just diesel smoke from idle engines like mist in a scroll painting
One thousand years old, this same river and this same city, now hanging in a temple in
The mountains far to the west.
(Sotto Voce, June 2009. Click on title the magazine or the title of the poem for more information.)