Cross-genre text: Deborah Poe

selections from Hélène, a hybrid novella


In the northern darkness there is a fish and his name is K’un. The K’un is so huge I don’t know how many thousand li he measures. He changes and becomes a bird whose name is P’eng. The back of the P’eng measures I don’t know how many li across and, when he rises up and flies off, his wings are like clouds all over the sky. When the sea begins to move, this bird sets off for the southern darkness, which is the Lake of Heaven.

Chuang Tzu

What can we acquire here? Stasis. Not fame or fortune.

The competition for our benevolent patriarch’s attention? Fitness threaded inside wire cages.

What one can calculate in the face of another.




I find no portraits of kings, of high officials, men.

In old designs I make out the eyes—more animal in shape—

not men. Powers. Presence in an abstract way.

Pragmatic, existential.

In mythology, little tragedy. The dead function like the living, only with greater sway: order, regularity, organization—oracle bones and artifacts.




Escape is the infrequent sight—red roofs next to green.

What it must sound like to these houses in the valley at night as the Ain rolls through these hills.

You sit near a river.

You see bumblebees or purple fleurs.

Would the rare wall’s rock face frighten you?

Would you notice the sound of spring advancing to summer?

Fish circles twilight night’s wine.

Travel by train?

What life after your own revolutions.

Would you possess a benevolent patriarch?

He knows nothing of you but promises to bring more books.

Today, inside working, it rains. I learn to judge day by a light within.

Do you know plants better than I?

Butterflies. Brown with gold tips flit through.

Or orange-edged wings: white spots at the tips black not brown.

The rain of no thunder in May—how far the storm seems to fall from cloud.




Ping-sheng, a level tone

Shang-sheng, a rising tone

Ch’ii-sheng, a vanishing tone

Ju-sheng, tone with staccato effect

A vanishing tone. A falling.




Words travel west. East giving west the word, giving the word to the Greeks.

Black Sea colonies fringed the western nomad lands.


Belonging to this strange, shimmering cloth.




One could find the end of the gossamer thread—the Indian summer into late autumn, goose summer.

Fibers unwound to filament.

Fabric extended as far as a train disappeared, beside the lake. A matter of seconds.


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Deborah Poe is assistant professor of English at Pace University, fiction editor of the international online journal of the arts, Drunken Boat, and guest curator/editor for Trickhouse‘s “Experiment” door 2010/2011. She is the author of the poetry collections Elements (Stockport Flats Press 2010) and Our Parenthetical Ontology (CustomWords 2008). Her writing is forthcoming or has appeared in Colorado Review, Sidebrow, Ploughshares, Fact-Simile Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Copper Nickel and other journals as well as in the anthologies In Our Own Words (MWE 2010), A Sing Economy (Flim Forum 2008) and Fingernails Across the Chalkboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS From the Black Diaspora (Third World Press 2007). Deborah is also co-editor of the short fiction anthology, provisionally entitled “Between Worlds,” with her colleague Ama Wattley.