The Last Tribe on Earth

by Anthony Tao, Liane Halton

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    —Anthony and Liane
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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.


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

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Track Name: Christmas alla Romana
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.
Track Name: Zhuangzi Dreams of a Butterfly
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.
Track Name: 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
came through moonlight to court her

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
I cannot but love you
Gentlemen folk of the world
They cannot but woo you

in the hills of Kangding
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)
Track Name: On Listening to Hai Zi
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.
Track Name: Mid-Autumn Blood Moon
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?
Track Name: Winter Solstice
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.
Track Name: The Last Tribe on Earth
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.
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