On February 23, 2002, I wrote a short poem, “The Road to Get Here,” and even though the poem never appeared in print, I have found myself going back to it many times.
THE ROAD TO GET HERE
The road to get here
cuts through pasture land
and memory. The creek
gets out once or twice a year.
Confucius, with his ban
on twisty thoughts,
would have you leave me be.
But if you came, our talk
could pause the day’s demise.
The calendar needs adjustment,
these hills a spare of light.
And those words I sent you
(shaking my weary head)
each one a crossroad…
I have always been a fan of Japanese and Chinese poetry, especially the brief lyrics that pay attention to landscape. Having grown up near fields, hollows, and creeks, I find that the poems of Han Shan, Saigyo, Tu Fu, Ryokan, Basho, Wang Wei, Issa and others share a sensibility with my own mind and experience. More recent poets have found themselves writing under a persona similar to these poets. David Budbill’s Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse comes to mind as does Jeff Daniel Marion’s beautiful collection, The Chinese Poet Awakens. Christopher Howell’s Through Silence: the Ling Wei Texts is another.
One familiar trope explored by many poets is the visitation poem. The speaker goes to visit a fellow poet but doesn’t find the poet at home. My own poem is more of an invitation poem than a visitation poem, one where I imagine that someone might be visiting me. Unlike the usual visitation poem where the poets miss each other, I am saying I will be present, waiting, imagining that “our talk/could pause the day’s demise.”
“Talk,” as a possibility, seemed to be on my mind during the early 2000s. My first collection, Fall Sanctuary, explores the ways in which we might “talk” to one another. In fact, the first poem, “In Fear and Trembling,” ends as follows:
But the fact a voice can speak a language
and be understood by someone else
is itself incomprehensible, and surely evidence
of compassion that exists outside ourselves.
Or do we just prefer this fallen world,
where we strive against the other’s interests
and guard ourselves and know that we’re alone?
Looking back, I see that I wanted a new way to talk: unguarded, compassionate, aware of divinity outside the self, uninterested in striving against the interests of others. “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?” the book’s epigraph from the gospel of Luke asked. In fact, the word “talk” appears six times throughout the book. In one instance, a knife is “slammed down to hush/the dinner talk.” In another, the day almost finished, the speaker says, “I’ll rise and go inside/to talk and news and wrung-out dishrags,/the unswept floor I’ll sweep and mop/as if this time, for once, the shine can stay.” A desire for wholeness, for permanency, is set against “inarticulation,” against making any kind of real difference to anything we touch. In other poems there is “smack-talk” and “town square talk,” language that poses the self against others, language that reclaims the day even though someone’s child goes missing in the bottomlands and never returns.
Thus, the road to get anywhere is never easy. It cuts “through pasture land/and memory” as well as potential flood. Even choosing the words we might share with another—by letter, by prayer—is likewise fraught with something other than ease. Perhaps that is the nature of writing: each word is a crossroad, exponentially increasing the chances that we will miss each other.
Even “The Road to Get Here” has been “missing” for sixteen years, uncirculated, unread. I offer it here: a renewed invitation. I am home. The “calendar needs adjustment.” I am still wondering what might happen if the hills were bathed in a “spare of light.”