A world is no less itself when upside down / reflected in the pool, as if dangled from its heels / like a prisoner already confessing his innocence / or his guilt by his journey through condition.
As a boy in Nowhere, Illinois, I came across / The Ratline: Notorious Nazis on the Lam, a book / about death-camp goons snaking / through the high grass of Paraguay / with Vatican papers and fake optical frames.
By definition, indoctrination immures the imagination and subjugates the will; it unduly narrows your range of experience and thereby limits your relationship with the universe, your ability to commune and communicate with the full range of experience that would otherwise be open to you.
I plunged just as deep into myself / as into the swaying sea / and freed the dolphin sleeping / there under chains of memory. / But I sensed I was mere fathoms / away from some lordlier creature / that kept the key to endless breath.
These horrifying mutations brought about the Age of Permanent Safety, when the Blue Death was, the health experts informed us, still very little understood. They arranged their data to present, nonetheless, a frightening image of a steadily rising mortality rate, which helped persuade the public that the virus had evolved to attack not the immune system anymore, but the emotional and reasoning centers of the brain.
It all begins here with an utterance, a scrambled item of speech requiring brain time to reconstruct: “Two metres.” Grumbled and garbled, the words issue from a mask. A figure cocks its head autistically sideways. The manner resembles that of a bird, the way it jerks its little skull to look at you with just one eye. Picture that gull eyeing you as you take your lunch on a park bench, the way it indirectly sidles in your direction while you eat. Picture Norman Bates.
Gary Snyder’s lively translations of Hanshan (Cold Mountain), along with their fictional account in Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, have since inspired numerous poets and translators to mimic Hanshan’s raw poetic style. Most are unaware, however, of their participation in a millennium-old tradition of composing Cold Mountain verses.
Bring me the sunflower so I can plant / it in my salt-scorched patch of earth, so it can throw / back to the day’s reflecting blue / the anguish of its upturned, yellow face.
We were seduced, Madame, by /
mutual machinations, duped, /
you and I, by summer’s mayhem /
pounding on our overheated craniums.
Incandescent, gold and red, / the world vibrates and hums / with the last of the autumn. / Carmel and rust, / sable, tan and chocolate leaves ornament the ground, / while necklaces of green and gold / twist down off the sturdy trees.