For Tran Dan, who enjoys frightening fellow artists
You are calm that these woods lack safety.
Silver motifs and swaying cats; where are
the parents? Human children easily sway
themselves into the path where eyes are
devoured by what’s been brushstroked up
in the leaves. While you wait for each layer
to dry, tree spirits crawl thick into painted
globules. Such representation is alchemy;
cursed potions too run chemical. Take two
parts of advice with you in archipelagic old
growth. One: my father taught us to speak,
upon entering a new, hilly forest, alone, an
offering of Assalamu’alaikum. Peace be for
the fanged ones Allah might set upon us.
A second warning: repeat this when you lock
up the studio for the night. There are ghosts
for whom a gentle salutation might balm an
urge to escape the cut of stretched-out flax,
to pull to the world you’ve created the crux
of all your fears. Lustrate the oils with voice.