Turning

Here is one of my oldest and dearest poems. I used to think it was quite good, now I no longer know. But it keeps coming back to me. If it succeeds at all I believe it is in evoking the mystery of death within life, life becoming memory, and of what I was thinking about at that time in my life.

1

Along the shiny edge of a scar
There are no nerve endings.
Along the desert road
There is only the desert and the road.

I rose to standing in the still air;
Blue sky, circling hawk,
The smell of pine trees and gasoline,
The dust slowly settling.
Silence.

Watersheds come like the molting of birds
And snake skins,
Like pulling teeth and peeling scabs.
Sometimes they come slowly
Like the blue ice of a glacier.
Sometimes they come quickly
Like flames leaping to touch a hand.

Later we calculated the distance.
Thirty paces in the air,
Then another ten.
How fast had I been going?
The impact still hides in shadows,
Memories concealed like a hilltop in fog.

But there,
Eighty feet from the half buried stone
I stood,
Traces of a struggle before me,
A vivid recollection without images,
A dream in darkness.

There is no moment
Like the moment you can’t remember,
Like the mind waking from
The anesthetic, alone, with
Only white sheets and stitches.

I leaned over,
Lifted the motorcycle
To its proper position.
Blood coming through my shirt sleeve,
Adrenaline rushing away in waves,
My broken foot
Secretly swelling inside my boot,
Still days from home and hospital.

2

The severed tails of lizards grow back
And shoots sprout from old roots
And some things never return.

The clouds finally cleared,
Emerald valley pulsing with music and incense,
Trampled grass, the smell of oils,
Burnt shoulders gyrating by the stage,
Honey colored sun reflecting
On drums.

I balanced carefully,
Blue bike handlebars,
Left tennis shoe, aluminum crutch,
Evening light in the trees,
A landscape lush with life,
And the two of us
Pedaling to the campus festival.

How far from here to the desert road,
Now glowing in moonlight,
To the place where it curves right, then left,
Under a sky now filling with stars?
How far back to the hilltop in fog,
Through the shadows of fragility and anguish
And mortality?

Recklessly I danced on one foot
the other turning black, purple, yellow,
Mottled image across tight skin,
The misshapen appendage
Now a symbol of transition,
Suspended above the earth.

Leaves turn in the wind
Like faces turn from suffering,
Like water turning into wine,
Like a young man, turning in the rhythm
Faces the sky’s constant rotation
And a childhood turning into memory
Like dust settling on a desert road.

(June 1998)

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