The Last Tribe on Earth

by Anthony Tao, Liane Halton

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    Your purchase also comes with a PDF of a 60-page chapbook featuring stunning photography from Aaron Berkovich and cover art by Katie Morton, in addition to a bonus track showcasing a side of Liane you've never heard... and all the love and gratitude we can muster.
    —Anthony and Liane
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1.
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Christmas alla Romana The day after Christmas in Rome, after the spaghetti with clams and sea bass, the pandoro, panettone, wine and grappa, having wolfed down fried cod alla romana and lamb, tortellini, gorgonzola, pangiallo, one could excuse us for saying no to ruins, history, the dank dark Catacombs on the Appian Way or that monastery of cloistered nuns still functioning, with its wheel where the scandalized abandoned their babies. We considered walking to Monte Testaccio, a terraced hill near the east bank of River Tiber with a landfill of amphora, trash ancients so considerately left us to gush and fawn over, to say of history, Look how alive, and shake our heads, because If Rome was so great… but we were too stuffed, so we spent St. Stephens Day in the sitting room sated, preparing for another meal, Aperol spritz and meatloaf. Our tribute would be humble, the family unit as unsaid prayer, a direct line to another time, its stone walls preserved with religiosity, culture polished evident as marble. Besides, it’s not as if they’re going anywhere, not as if the naves are getting profane or that Caravaggio grown legs. Rome will always be there, imperishable, unlike cheese or the tender heart inside those already-browning artichokes, our days and our lives.
3.
Zhuangzi Dreams of a Butterfly Zhuangzi the philosopher believed in the value of non-belief. He was untroubled by the world, ever-easy under heaven, even when it was in revolt, logic and path in disarray, full of understanding for process and the helpless ambitions of men. One day Zhuangzi woke from a dream in which he was a butterfly and felt a hunger in one of his hundred bones, a gnawing … it was hard to pinpoint, thing or spirit, breath or air. Is Zhuangzi dreaming of the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming of food? And this world we exist in, the philosopher thought, how will water turn into war, death transform to fortune? Was blood the hunger dreamt by spear? the schism of body a dream of earthquake? A warm wind rustled the leaves; Zhuangzi understood perfectly his task that day, however impossible, was to describe it.
4.
Kangding 04:57
Kangding On the sunside of rock and stone sits the town of Kangding, ancient as song and change. On the shadowside of thunder, woodcutters and cooks watch dragonflies and phoenix, ghosts and frost, maidens high up on the clouds beneath mountain cover. When they look down you just might die. Let others recite their encyclicals while we chase flanks of smoke falling on jade and willow, cassia and prayer. Let us recall winter plums in gauze windows, toast the spring’s solitary moon, and hope again to meet in dream, water unburdened by reflection, phantoms unbothered by light, love untethered to tradition. Let us run, cohere to sun, twirl in rays of melting rain against the sod and slope of Kangding. Let us swoon, cohere to moon, sink into beds of pine among shine, listening for kingfisher and drake, wind and dawn, singing — Lovely maid with a smile so sweet Li the woodcutter's daughter Zhang the blacksmith’s eldest's son came through moonlight to court her Moonlight shines bright 月亮彎彎 came through moonlight to court her 看上溜溜的她喲 Let us run, cohere to sun, Let us swoon, cohere to moon, Twirl in rays of melting rain, sing of all that might not change — Lovely maidens of the world 世間溜溜的女子 I cannot but love you 任我溜溜的愛喲 Gentlemen folk of the world 世間溜溜的男子 They cannot but woo you 任你溜溜的求喲 in the hills of Kangding 月亮彎彎 in the vales of Kangding in the watchful evergreens and purple starlit dreams in the moonlight cresting over Kangding in the moon’s dharma over Kangding in the stars and moons shining in the stars and moons that shine ~ (After “Kangding Love Song,” a famous Chinese folk song. The Chinese words are from the song, and the italicized portions, sung by Liane, are translations of the Chinese lyrics)
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6.
On Listening to Hai Zi After Hai Zi’s “September,” as sung by Zhou Yunpeng Hai Zi is a Chinese poet who killed himself in 1989 Gods died on these grasslands. The flowers covering their bodies rightly flourish and prosperously rot, returning life to its proper place. It is not so far afield after all, not so impossible as those melodies sung on horse-haired instruments in the lonely plains where we cannot go. Hai Zi was still young when he laid his body across railroad tracks and waited to feel the concussion between words; those of his generation would learn good sense sometimes has the sense to leave all abandoned. This was before they fled the bullets. The blind singer Zhou Yunpeng understands the cataclysm in that song on horse-haired instruments in the lonely plains where we cannot go. He says there are no tears… well, call me a fool – if these aren’t tears then I’ll return the sorghum liquor to its bottle and the bottle to the mud, and the grass in the air that pricks my nose and burns my tongue I’ll return to the field of the dead gods who are so far away that far cannot comprehend, where wildflowers, facing the sea, sway in the wind.
7.
Mid-Autumn Blood Moon We cowered under cold and cassia wine, Certain conversations untouched across the dinner table, Hazarding to ascend with offers of cockscomb Or descend into that garden where women can ask Flowers to prophesy the number and sex of their children. God or demon, will you anchor or steer? In the morning on the day after the last sun I could not say what horns sounded from toad kings’ throats Or faces lifted off the sand with scars burnished by change, Just that The empurpling horizon teetered across a central pillar As a great fight raged with archers’ stars and the broad sword of wind. Just that The empurpling horizon teetered across a central pillar As a great fight raged with archers’ stars and the broad sword of wind. In after-sun on morning of last day Could I not say what sounds off kings and toads Lift burnished faces sanded by scars, The pilloried, teetering, just, Purpled across changed horizon As archers and stars with wind and sword fight a broad rage. Pilloried, purple, teetering Stars with sword and wind fight broad rage Would it tip toward the future, depositing us on rock, huddled and together? Or, with the creep of shadow over an unbent Immortal, would it fall The other side, causing us to slide like mud Flush into gully As rain?
8.
Winter Solstice It was cold is all I remember, It was dim and dimming. Bare stems quivered, maybe. I don’t know, it was cold. It was cold to hear the cats Blazoning wishes on the wind. They howled about fair wages For the fair work of living. It was cold to see the sky Gazed upon by poets. Did they know the fire in the stars Burns also in their hearts? In this winter in my head A light snow powdered park benches. We passed under yellow ovals And blinked in the clement dusting. The moon drew out memory And left our shadows huddling. Habitual itinerants, seasonal disaffectives, Loiterers wandering in the elements, Do you know the weight that breath Can achieve, just like absence? The cats who all night announced their location Paused to let light announce the morning. I am reminded how far I’ve come And how far yet is left to go. It was cold, I remember. It was dim and dimming. Thank God darkness is temporary.
9.
The Last Tribe on Earth It’s hard to imagine, now, the hardships they endured to get this far — those who got this far, still not far enough to outdistance the cannibals’ marbled orbs, pallid and childlike, the nightmares of ad hoc abattoirs besetting like blight and fog, the upright and tailing smell of disease, pinch of hunger, and death, so many that May Death come to you became a felicitation — but far enough to survive, those who survived, less like a choice with each nightfall and sunrise, requiring neither apology nor reason; they were simply proof of a primal idea even if joy was absent in those jagged mornings with dust wiggling inside chests and abscesses visible and within. There was so little beauty, and warmth was wealth. But there was movement, always movement, a form of expression containing the possibility of grace. There were seeing eyes and calculations of intent, which meant there could be desire, and sorrow, and in the narrowest of margins, a needle of sentiment like a single sprout of moss. During the interminable winters they took turns huddling and isolating the diseased, nurturing the weak — the people we were all slowly becoming. In the congealed, sticky air of summer there was conversation, exploration, consideration of applications, migration, and breeding — what the elders called prayer with action, giving reply to the devil inside each. There were nihilists who preached humanity got what it deserved, argued against propagation, mumbling and self-declaiming until they saw starvation was teeth, and that it eats. There were citizens who cradled faith privately and silently in the act of doing — women and mothers, heroes of untold stories. There were hermits who burrowed even after the skies cleared, who denied light as their forebears denied reason. There were artists who created a new genre of art in the form of dying. And there were poets, those who knew there is poetry contained in glances that cannot be carried by any word. For a while, many years, no one spoke of the children who roved the premises bug-eyed and walnut-faced; it was difficult to love them, those physical outcrops of our mistake, harder still because we suspected they would — those who could — grow up to become our future, reap rewards without paying the horrors. But it was unlawful to deny a child, so the only neglect was silence and a particular form of aslant, inquisitive gaze. And what of love? We must admit it existed. Through motions that grew repetitive, less fraught for the repetition, love is sort of what sprung up, first from the caretakers in the form of a guileless touch, then embedded into stories amid the extraneous adjective, and then amongst the rest of us who stopped to point out a thing not there before. This period was called The Exhumation, relearning, digging up old sayings like the one about how it takes a village. It was still not safe outside, but in time the bandits, murderers, and rapists lost their motivations. Loss was the constant, so reliable that rituals to commemorate loss lost their meanings. Two generations or so later, the tribe began losing the very meaning of danger. Only then were our stories recorded, for only then was death resurrected, eternal villain in the tales we tell. Only then did children listen with the intent of retelling. They had scraped the bottom but were now back on the up- swing down the long tunnel of history, unsure if gravity pulled them toward destruction or a new morning. On most nights it was enough to look up and know salvation, God’s first light, was constant. But it is far. To reach it, we have to burn everything.

about

The Last Tribe on Earth is a poetry x music collaboration featuring the original poetry of Anthony Tao and original compositions on the classical guitar by Liane Halton. Poetry was never meant to be static: We hope, through this experiment, to present poetry in an active form, and along with its enlivening, stay true to its humble purpose — to illuminate, to expand, and to delight.

credits

released March 20, 2019

Cover Art: Katie Morton
Visuals: Aaron Berkovich (photography) and Nina Dillenz (digital image composition)
Mixing: Kevin Carafa

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Anthony Tao, Liane Halton Beijing, China

LIANE HALTON graduated from Rhodes University in South Africa in classical guitar performance and composition. ANTHONY TAO is an editor and writer whose poetry has appeared in publications such as Prairie Schooner, Borderlands, The Cortland Review, Kartika Review, Frontier, Asian Cha, etc. ... more

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