The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, line 4234
Baking two parts flour to one part water
could stop a bullet. So good soldiers
carried their hardtack over their hearts.
Break it down with a rifle butt, flood it,
fry it in pig fat to make hellfire stew.
Gnaw it raw and praise the juice.
Does wheat prepare for this as it grows,
seeking the light in a half-thawed field?
Do stalks know their strength is merely
in their number? What is ground down
we name flour in promise that it will be
made useful. Otherwise, it’s just dust.
Sheet iron crackers.
Would you call it starving, if a man dies
with hardtack still tucked in his pocket?
Can you call it food, if the bullet comes only
at the moment he gives in and swallows?
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
and first light
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me
they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is
and why she is sitting
on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;
and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way
I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward
and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years
I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can’t be repeated.
If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named
The donkeys bathe in dust,
the one spot in the pasture
that shines bright on
Moved to another pasture,
they will excavate another crater,
grunt with pleasure scooting
along the ground on their spines,
then rise with festive brays and stand
again, refreshed. Giving the donkeys
a good pat, generations of dust rise up,
coughing out a cloud that engulfs us.
Heirloom carpets that have
never been cleaned, they are soon
back to their non-stop grazing.
I beg to dicker with my silver-tongued companion, whose lips are ready to read my shining gloss. A versatile partner, conversant and well-versed in the verbal art, the dictionary is not averse to the solitary habits of the curiously wide-awake reader. In the dark night’s insomnia, the book is a stimulating sedative, awakening my tired imagination to the hypnagogic trance of language. Retiring to the canopy of the bedroom, turning on the bedside light, taking the big dictionary to bed, clutching the unabridged bulk, heavy with the weight of all the meanings between these covers, smoothing the thin sheets, thick with accented syllables—all are exercises in the conscious regimen of dreamers, who toss words on their tongues while turning illuminated pages. To go through all these motions and procedures, groping in the dark for an alluring word, is the poet’s nocturnal mission. Aroused by myriad possibilities, we try out the most perverse positions in the practice of our nightly act, the penetration of the denotative body of the work. Any exit from the logic of language might be an entry in a symptomatic dictionary. The alphabetical order of this ample block of knowledge might render a dense lexicon of lucid hallucinations. Beside the bed, a pad lies open to record the meandering of migratory words. In the rapid eye movement of the poet’s night vision, this dictum can be decoded, like the secret acrostic of a lover’s name.
Roaring roast cake with bean base spareribs for me,
carottes étouffées medium rare,
I like them a tad undercooked, still red
with sap, tea leaves in olive oil,
strawberry sushi flummoxed
to the point of deliquescence,
or better still, freshly picked
cucumber rolls to match
the lettuce steak, mesquite broiled
to a crunchy andante, with all
organic granola salsa, nuts
nutritious to the max, and then of course the
soypork casserole with legs
of boletus, and tofu chops on a platter
of tomato paste base salmon with
a sprinkling of beet juice droplets,
all served with a rich broccoli broth.
years of anger following
hours that float idly down —
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes —
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there —
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.
“Inert Perfection, let me chip your shell.
You cannot break it through with that soft beak.
What if you broke it never, and it befell
You should not issue thence, should never speak?”
Perfection in the egg, a fluid thing,
Grows solid in due course, and there exists;
Knowing no urge to struggle forth and sing;
Complete, though shell-bound. But the mind insists
It shall be hatched…to this ulterior end:
That it be bound by Function, that it be
Less than Perfection, having to expend
Some force on a nostalgia to be free.