“Is the soul solid like iron?...
        The swan opens her white wings slowly...
        What about the grass?”

      — Mary Oliver, "Some Questions You Might Ask"
          from House of Light (1990)

Mineral, plant, or animal— Is the soul
absent, asleep, or awake in them?
What about iron?— liquid core of earth,
atomic weight 55, numerical sum
of the Lambda series which Plato
called the soul of the universe.

Does the soul have a lung?— or perhaps
trillions of lungs in hemoglobins
of red blood cells, four iron horsemen
carrying oxygen as we breathe in
and out. Is Adam still circulating,
spinning in every atom of our soul?

What about grass?— summer hair
of the Great Mother, swirling
with the sunflower's golden spirals.
Does the soul have color?— shining
from the visible spectrum's center
of greenness to some source beyond

the swan's whiteness?— a bird that can
separate milk from water, coming into
Socrates' dream, landing on his bosom
singing the night before Plato came to be
his student, and hamsa in Sanskrit means
swan & soul— the sounds of breathing.

Does the soul have a phone number?
How about 55?— sum of one to ten,
Plato's 55 Dialogues, the stars
Dante scattered in his Commedia.
What about 5 and 5 coming together—
our fingers touching in prayer?

              — Peter Y. Chou
                   Palo Alto, 3-20-1993

                   Notes to Poem