I remember a story I once heard laughing out
around the tree like rings glistening upon the lake;
It told a tale, a sad tale, a timely tale about a boy
or perhaps a girl, I remember it was about a child,
either will do to pull this tale through the morass.
A swamp it was with crickets and frogs a cappella;
the language sang between the creek’s high giggles.
I stood night still: no moon to number the shadows,
no omphalos filtered sun to steel me against the dark.
The cacophony cocooned me, sealing in the story’s maze.
Where was I? With the child upon a trail? Trees green
the hills. The trail canopied by leaves loses the sky.
Were bread crumbs dropped? The child was lost, but
singing. The song stretched out before, a bubble of the
familiar. The child wandered the way; becoming old.
A moral was told but forgotten. The fire burned
low like eyes slipping toward sleep. Leaves glistened
the forest floor. The story slid from me, a snake
sloughing skin. Infrequently embers flashed
scattering light, sparkling my eyes with stars.
What was woven? What warmth washed over me
as the teller told his tale? The world dissolved as
did myself with the whispered words. A waterfall
slipped over stone, snaked between trees that held
the night safe about me like life atremble with fire.
Somewhere the story struck flint on stone stirring
my thoughts like a winter bear beneath the snow.
I floated up with the last of the circling smoke; the
now silent syllables curled their signals along
convoluted synapses: the outstretched hand of God.
Each thought outleaped the last like frost casting crystal
fractals across a window. I wandered lost above the
trees, like the child upon the trail, singing the wind.
The words sang me and the world widened like eyes
lost in wonder. I was alone with the trees, laughing.
This was someone else’s story;
the telling tangles with others’ chit-chatter,
with others’ noises. My noises?
The pieces interchange, clash, then meld.
The song discordant, yet still
I lose my thoughts in clishmaclaver.
I start to speak, but truth
cloaked with cliches- – a panther
among the rocks- – eludes expression.
My language not my language enfolds.
What can be said does not express,
but allows the thought to form
to follow the metaphor- -the ossified
remains of the words cold trail.
Each word, a cliche- – steps worn by
supplicants unrelenting feet, direct
the way the words can be taken,
which in turn twist to bend again
into familiar passages that are not- –
the panther crouches upon the rock,
my language not my language- – a labyrinth
closed, but infinite leads through turns.
I trust in understanding, yet trust conceals
the hold I have is tenuous- – each morning,
the sun rises to comfort with continuity.
The familiar disappears, a mental white noise;
a maelstrom of activity whirls and whirls
from coffee cup to car to career to bed
like straw caught in dust devils first trapped,
tightly twirled, then dropped to land
without sign of movement or change.
The string unwinds behind me, but I
go forward trusting in the sun, my language
not my language, to lead, not lure, through,
not in- – the walls grow high, the path leads
down, a panther leaps like water over rock.
(Fall 1990-Spring 1991)