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.