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A Small Light

July 17, 1988|by Cathy Song

When the man comes home he takes off his hat and looks up at the leaves of the tree. The light anoints each leaf as it sinks into the sea. The tree shimmers like a thousand mirrors, the suddenness of birds in flight. A child is sleeping in the house. The house rises and falls with each breath as if the house were made of cloth. Tacked to the walls is the sound of the clock which keeps the house from floating away. A curtain divides the bed and the sink. A woman lies on the bed and feels the house fall into itself, the window fills with leaves. Her body fills with sleep as if sleep were a dream of water. The sound of the clock grows smaller like a light in a window you pass at night. The child opens her eyes to a dream of water. A web in the window is sunlight seen from the inside of water. Floating in the window, it is barely there, like her breath, like hair. She understands what can't be seen can still be broken. She holds her breath as though her breath could break. When the tree hauls its leaves in shadows across the room, the web stretches like an accordion, but silent, elastic, made of skin. A dead stream is a river of leaves. All day the wind stirs a parched soup, a kindling of matchsticks and leaves, the size of the child's hand. Some part of the tree is always dying. Somewhere it is always raining leaves and a child, closing the door on the falling walls of a house, walks away, her slight dress sinking into the dry river, hair, a small light, touching each leaf.

"A Small Light" comes from "Frameless Windows, Squares of Light" (W. W. Norton : $15.95; 84 pp.). Cathy Song was born in Hawaii in 1955 and lives in Honolulu. Her first collection of poems, "Picture Bride," was selected by Richard Hugo for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1982. 1988, Cathy Song. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton.

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