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Revisitings (Poems and distractions from years gone by)

The Book of Distractions

 

Here lie the thoughts that got lost

on their way from beginnings

to fulfillment. Here

are variations that never

had a theme, plus the byroads

and narrow paths

leading into a canyon that forks

into impossible choices.

This is what keeps me

from writing something else, and I don’t know

what it is I’m distracted from. Here

are words which escaped

and ran in all directions. Every page

is an unintended consequence,

the record of a journey

taken for the sake of it, a constellation

of stars from an uncharted galaxy.

Here are fragments

that never fit together,

loose ends on paper

masquerading as a plan, connections

on a schedule of trains

that run without having

stations in which to arrive, only

observers who stand by the tracks

as they pass, waving handkerchiefs

white as the unprinted page.

 

 

Visiting Du Fu

 

There isn’t much on Du Fu’s mind today

outside of dragonflies

which he watches from beside the river.

Once in a while he points out a tint

in the wings,  and then goes back into himself.

 

He’s too quiet to be good company

and I keep asking questions he won’t answer:

 

Does every raindrop contain a grasshopper?

Is there a mountain inside every cloud?

 

He looks at me and smiles

as if I ought to know the answer.

He’s so contented, it irritates me

and I wish I hadn’t come here

to see him float on time

 

as it flows into another day. Du Fu says

even the orioles, as they come and go,

yellow and black, singing to the light,

know that the time is always now.

I tell him I’m from an age far off in the future

 

when knowledge exists in fragments

that arrive without instructions

on how to put them together, and not a moment goes by

without somebody trying to attract our attention

and sell this or that. He returns to his gazing

 

while I can’t name a single dragonfly.

What kind is that one? I ask,

and he replies,

 

Don’t interrupt me when I’m doing nothing.

 

 

 

Words for an Annual Gathering

 

Our need for ritual brings us back

to cactus, sun and desert water

where the memory of a friend is waiting

as we speak to the hawks

and listen to the leaves newly greened

beside the creek. Each of us brings a vision

 

for the better world we describe

but cannot find. It could begin

as the flower on a barrel cactus

behind the mountain in its coat of spring

or in the nest a wren has woven

into undergrowth. It might be so close

 

we could touch it, or far away

as the planets on which

tiny machines roll and bounce

and send photographs back

for viewing on Earth between those

 

showing devastation wrought by bombs

or industry so heavy

the planet cannot bear its weight.

We say our names and plead not guilty,

pass a staff of wisdom hand to hand

 

hoping some of it rubs off

to fortify us until we circle again

beneath the eye of a raptor

admiring the grace by which

it takes only what survival demands.

 


 

The Mountaineer’s Return

 

The other climbers underwent a rapid

metamorphosis of men into snow

and the blizzard spoke to the one

who remained, tempting him with miracles

should he go on. But he raised

his frosty hands to shield his face

from its incredible light

and wept ice. He made radio contact

with the afterlife

where some of his colleagues had arrived

and expected the rest to follow soon.

Don’t worry about us,

they told him, think of yourself.

He called back to ask

How dead are you? They laughed and said

Find us if you can.

If one is still alive, he answered, I will not leave him.

And the voices in the radio mocked him

saying   We are not afraid   We are going to the top

We are the mountain   You must live

with your conscience. He saw

in the floating grains of white

the souls that had broken  apart on the sharpest

rocks, heard the descending scale

the wind played as goodbyes,

and tried again to pick up a hopeful sign.

A man’s shadow, projected by the setting sun,

crossed the rosy slope to taunt him.

He called out until his breath turned solid.

He picked up a signal.

It told him about the beautiful view

from above the peak. We are going on   Our courage has no end

We do not miss you. So he turned around and set off

for the valley. Afraid he would freeze in his sleep

he lit the way before him with a flashlight

and did not look back until he stood

in the springtime of the world.