Farewell China

Today was my last full day in China, and what a beautiful day. Perfectly clear, a bit of breeze, and maybe 80ish outside. Made for strolling, which is exactly what I did, through the beautiful French Concession area of Shanghai.

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If the Bund is where the British were, the Concession is where the French rebuilt Paris in Asia. The area is eerily reminiscent of France. With great shade trees lining wide streets, gated villas, and stately French architecture everywhere. I mainly felt like I was back in southern France, in Aix. Same exact feel, and nearly identical type of weather. A stroll in this area is truly a must do, and makes for some excellent people watching. Everyone just going about their business, all the while with bicycles slowly going by.

The French Concession really is all about walking and observing, and is supremely beautiful, almost too beautiful. What I mean by this is that you honestly lose touch with where you are, and, like at the Bund, can suddenly swear you are in Europe. It is a replication. Designer shops everywhere, eateries everywhere, high end and more high end. Not that this isn’t nice, for a while. But one thing I have really noticed in Shanghai is that most people, the normal, everyday Chinese, do not really live like this.

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A great case in point in that nothing is ever busy is the posh parts of town. I honestly think a lot of businesses never see a customer the entire day. A true image I will take back with me is the empty, ritzy stores with some poor person sitting, bored out of their mind all day. I can back this up even more because I have gone in these stores, and it’s like the person awakes from the dead, and is so happy there’s a person in the store. It’s not that they want you to buy something per see. I honestly think they are just so grateful to have something to do.

So, Shanghai is supremely beautiful. A wealthy, posh place full of every imaginable comfort. Geared towards luxury and pleasure. But, for the traveler, quite frankly a pretty boring place. I need some more rough-edges, some nasty smells, some challenges. It’s just too nice here, and that leaves me unaware of the underbelly that makes for the best travel. I find that you really only come to appreciate places when you see the grit and grime and nastiness… these are the things, oddly, that are the most beautiful. The side-streets, the dirty alleys, the people living honestly. The smells and chaos and weirdness and beauty. Things that are too nice are hiding something, and that’s a shame for the traveler (though not perhaps for the tourist).

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This was awesome. An older woman writing on the sidewalk with water!

But, all in all, I can’t complain, though it might sound like I am. Shanghai is a wonderful city, and I have loved being here. It is the future of China, and I would definitely come back. We just can’t lose sight of the ancient, the old, the nasty, the unclean, in that relentless march forward. For me at least, that would be a great, great shame…

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Around Shanghai

Shanghai is a great place to end this trip because it really rounds out my view of China. Beijing is the massive, ancient capital, Xi’an is the cradle of all Chinese civilization, and Shanghai is the modern metropolis, the New York of China. I’ve seen the ancient, and now I see the present, and all of the extreme modernity of the country.

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And so far, Shanghai is an accessible, easy to navigate place. In fact, it is really the only city that I have been able to completely walk, without at all relying on taxis. This is nice, and I think the best way to get around. What I am also enjoying about Shanghai is that it really feels like you are in Europe, or at least London and England.

I say this because Shanghai was once a true colonial city, and the British basically rebuilt England along the stretch of the Huangpu River that cuts right through Shanghai. If you were jut suddenly dropped here, I think you could easily believe that you were in London, not Asia. The buildings look English, the streets are cobble-stone, and inside the buildings you’d even feel like you were in a London hotel. A true nice change of pace from all of the ancient architecture I’ve been exposed to for these last 2 weeks.

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But, Shanghai is also one of those “one off” cities, meaning that you can pretty much see what there is to see in a day or so. There isn’t any huge, massive sight, except perhaps walking up the Bund, or the promenade by the river, seeing the colonial architecture, and going into the excellent Shanghai Museum, which is one of the easiest, most accessible museums I have ever been in. Besides that, Shanghai is more of a sight in-itself, just seeing the modernity and consumerism, and endless shopping that goes on. Sitting and watching the city for a couple of hours is maybe the best way to take it in.

Overall, it is a nice ending, a big, comfortable city, fun to just walk, and so far keeping up with the excellent food I have had this entire time. Tomorrow is my last full day, and I am off to see the French part of town.

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Pagodas and Museums in Xian

Today was a day of museums, pagodas, and street-walking in South Xi’an. I started at the Shaanxi History Museum, which, although small, has one of the best collections in all of China. And, unlike the massive, unwieldy National Museum in Beijing, you can actually make it through the collection in an easy hour or two. One thing that also makes museums in China efficient and straightforward is that they are always arranged chronologically. You just walk through all of the dynasties, room-by-room. I for one find this nice.

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After Shaanxi, I strolled the streets towards the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which is maybe 3 or 4 blocks away. I have really come to enjoy just walking and observing what goes on in the streets. You can really get a sense for a place this way, and how people live on a daily basis. Once at the Goose Pagoda, I wandered around the complex, especially admiring its great pagoda. This is the first one I have seen so far in China, and I am learning that the pagoda style mimics what travelers in ancient China saw in India when they themselves traveled. They brought this back, along with Buddhism, which you also see a lot of in Xi’an. This makes sense, since it is best known as being a cultural crossroad.

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Such fitting but forgotten words in our current world…

From the Wild Goose, a long walk brought me back to my hotel, and I took in some great street scenes along the way, especially traffic navigation. It looks and sounds insane and crazy, but there truly is a method to the madness, and is almost hypnotic to watch. It all somehow works out.

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My final stop was the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, and the attached Xi’an Museum. No joke, there really is a Small and Giant Wild Goose Pagoda! And this one, although smaller, I think is the best of two. It is far quainter and quieter, and the museum is great. It has some excellent statues of Buddha that are not sealed off behind glass. You can really get up close and stare.

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So ends my last day in Xi’an, and tomorrow I fly off for the last leg of this trip in Shanghai.

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The Terracotta Warriors

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My first official day in Xi’an started with an early morning out to the most famous sight in this area, and really the whole reason people come: the Terracotta Warriors. It’s actually surprising how this is at least an hour out of town, but the drive, once you leave the city, is nice. Farmland and open fields. It was actually a farmer who found the great horde of warriors back in the 70s by accident.

The Terracotta Warriors themselves are important and cool because the complex is absolutely massive. There’s just thousands and thousands of them in 3 main pits, with each pit itself huge and deep. This was the burial army for China’s first great emperor, Qin Shihuang, who united the country, and started the Great Wall thousands of years ago. This army stands guard, and his mausoleum is nearby.

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What’s also awesome, and is really the main reason I came all the way out to the middle of China, is that nearly every single warrior is unique. With a unique look, stance, job, face, dress, etc. That’s mind-boggling to show all of this individuality that long ago, and then for them to have survived this long, all in their original place. It really is fascinating, and a great feeling to have at least seen all of them, face-to-face.

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My driver and I made it back into Xi’an itself around noon, and I spent the rest of the day exploring this historic city on foot. As I’ve been thinking about it, Xi’an was once a lot like New York City: a huge place where people and cultures mixed, and that sat at the great center of things. During the Tang Dynasty, Xi’an was also a thriving place for the arts. It’s where diverse people and ideas mingled, and where great things happened. And you can see this throughout the city.

The City Walls themselves are pretty cool, and I took a walk along them to get a better sense for the old city. But the brutal heat made a full circuit foolish, and I came down to escape into the shade of Xi’an’s streets.

The best was the Muslim Quarter around the Drum and Bell Towers. This is the first time I have ever seen Chinese Muslims, and it goes to show how diverse this area is, and accepting. The Quarter itself has an absolutely wonderful market that goes on and on for blocks, and it was a nice place to shop and just observe all of things going on. The madness of a market is a great thing, as are the pungent smells.

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The rest of the day was spent cooling down indoors, which is especially easy in my wonderful hotel, the Grand Park. It’s rest next to the wall, and just extremely cozy, comfortable, and with plenty of great food! A perfect sanctuary in the middle of Xi’an.

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The Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace

Another day out with Mr. Wang, and this time we were off for two key sights in Beijing: the wonderful Temple of Heaven and the huge Summer Palace, which is maybe 30 minutes outside of town. Of these two, I thought the Temple of Heaven was the best. It is situated in a beautiful park, and is a place where a lot of locals spend time. Some were playing tennis, and, down one long walk, older people were having intense games of cards and chess.

The highlight of the Temple is the Good Prayers for the Harvest Hall, a huge central temple where the emperor would regularly come to give blessings both to the empire as a whole, and to the upcoming crops for the year. It is set on the top of 3 marble slaps, like at the Forbidden City. I am starting to realize that in China being set up on these slabs means something is very special and important. Inside the Hall itself a large number of birds were flying around. The park surrounding the main hall was also a great place to walk, full of ancient trees, tall grasses, and in general a lovely setting where you could easily spend most of the day.

After the Temple, we raced out to the edge of Beijing to take in the Summer Palace, which is exactly like Versailles in France. A retreat for royalty in a beautiful setting. The Palace itself is set around Lake Kunming, and has tons of different bridges, buildings, and temples surrounding it. The bridges especially were beautiful, mainly because they were unusual in appearance. The arches were tall and exaggerated, with one incredibly short, but really high up in the air.

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The other great part about the Palace was Longevity Hill, which dominates the Lake, and is topped with a grand temple that you can only reach by climbing a set of really steep stairs. It is a bit of a tough climb, but the views back out over the area are worth it.

After the Palace, I returned back to Beijing, and am enjoying another nice evening over some tea and dumplings. With the heat so intense, by around noon it’s best to have most of the sight-seeing done, and you can just relax in a nice cool spot and people watch.

Burning Incense in Beijing

Today was all about exploring north Beijing, or the north Dongcheng area. This started with the trusty Mr. Wang picking me up promptly at 8 and driving like a mad man through the Beijing traffic. We always make good time, though, and since it was a brutal, sweltering day, having AC in the car made it not really that bad at all.

Our first stop was the Lama Temple, which is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist temples in China. What made this a truly unforgettable experience is that I arrived right when they opened, and rushed in with a horde of locals for an incense burning and chanting by the monks. This was a marvelous, surreal experience. Incense floating through the air, the smell of fire and smoke, people praying and bowing, while, off in the distance, deep chanting coming from a temple. Patient drums beat as well, and it was easy to get caught up in the feeling of it all. You never really understand a temple until you see it in use.

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Right across the street from the Lama Temple, over a street smelling of raw sewage, is the Confucius Temple and School. This is a wonderfully shaded, beautiful place that is I think most remarkable because of the giant rock steles, or pillars, with the names of the people who passed the official government examinations. This goes back for centuries, and it was cool to think how important it was to pass a test. A permanent honors list.

The rest of the day was spent at what in China is called a hutong, which is a traditional, winding street filled with all sorts of shops. It’s a refreshing break from the heat, and a great place to wander. I also dropped by the Drum and Bell Towers, which is just up from the Forbidden City, and actually the perfect line that cuts through the Palace is here as well. Remarkable, and it goes to show you how perfectly designed the imperial city is.

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I’m learning, though, that the best way to spend an afternoon and evening in hot Beijing is reading over a tea, and then eating a big bowl of noodles and some dumplings. It is a great, great thing, and I can now more fully appreciate why Anthony Bourdain would be happy to die after eating a big bowl of broth and noodles in Asia! Beijing has awesome food!

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The Great Wall at Mutianyu

Today was an exciting day, and opened with a nice drive outside of Beijing to the Mutianyu stretch of the Great Wall. This takes about 2 hours. And, once you leave the city, I thought it became very nice. Open fields, greenhouses with trees and flowers, and, as you get closer to the Wall, the mountains creep up, and trees are everywhere. My driver, a nice old man named Mr. Wang, added to the enjoyment of this, with his terrifying speed at times, but also his ability to always avoid a horrible death!

I specifically decided on this part of the Wall because it is still relatively quiet and underdeveloped, especially if you go in the early morning, before the tourist hordes come. I think we got there at around 9:30ish, and I was pretty much alone on the Wall. The way up itself was nice – you take a gondola to the top, which drops you within walking distance of this very steep portion of the Wall.

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In fact, from a distance, the Wall looks downright terrifying to walk. The path twists up at an almost unnatural slant, shooting straight up a cliff-side. But, what’s interesting is how this is all so deceptive. Yes, it is steep at times, but the more you walk the more the terror of the steepness goes away, and you realize that the angle is fitting given your environment. It makes sense that, being a defensive wall, it is more intimidating to those not yet on it, rather than those walking along it.

There are also other little details that I think you only can notice and appreciate if you are actually here at the Wall. There were a lot of butterflies I noticed, white ones in pairs. Every now and then they would fly across your path. Also noticeable is the wonderful smells coming off the trees that branch over the Wall at times. And, the great watch towers, and how some are very big inside, with arches, and steep ladders that you have to climb on either up to the roof, or even to get back on the path. I also for one enjoyed the great views, and especially the ruggedness of the mountain range. It really is imposing, and offers such sweeping views over the entire countryside.

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I ultimately made it half way up that massive climb up the cliff in the distance, and had to turn around in order to make it back in time to have Mr. Wang drive me back to Beijing in the afternoon. It has slowly turned rainy and cloudy, which is nice because it has been so hot.

Tomorrow I stick in town, with Mr. Wang again picking me up in the morning.

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The Forbidden City

I rolled into Beijing yesterday with I think only like 3 hours of sleep for the last 2 days. Everything is a haze of extreme fatigue, traffic, a gray, cloudy day, and then just blackness until early morning. I discovered when I woke up that my room has a great view of downtown Beijing, which is good and cool.

Because I went to sleep so early last night, I woke up at 6 in the morning, and set off for a long day of walking and in general getting oriented to the city. My hotel is maybe just a 30 minute walk to Tiananmen Square and the entrance to the Forbidden City, all down a nice, tree-lined and incredibly wide avenue. I discovered as well that walking isn’t all that bad. In some Asian countries, you sometimes take your life into your own hands crossing the street, but the Chinese seem to actually follow walking lights. It was all very orderly and efficient, although I still always walk with a group of locals across big streets, preferably old women with shopping carts. This is always safer. I mean no one’s going to run down an old woman, right?

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While I was walking it is also very noticeable how security becomes tighter and tighter the closer you get to Tiananmen. All roads once you hit this area are completely blockaded in, and you are left in a little sidewalk trap where you are funneled ahead with everyone else through maybe something like 3 different security checks. It all seemed pretty harmless and non-invasive to me, though, and I never really felt all that bothered by it. You just have to submit to it all, and move on.

How to actually describe the Forbidden City? The first thing you have to understand is that you walk endlessly. I think I covered like 6-7 miles today all told, back and forth to my hotel. And most of this is walking through massive, massive squares and huge open areas dotted with beautiful halls in the middle. In fact, I would say that most of the Forbidden City is empty spaces with wonderful views. But by this I don’t mean to take away from the incredibleness of being there. You’re just surprised by how vast everything is, and how you just walk and walk and walk… but I guess this is the point.

The actual Forbidden City itself is primarily an engineering masterpiece. The entire palace is perfectly designed, almost too perfectly arranged. Down the very center of the complex, and then out onto Tiananmen, there is a straight line of white marble, which was reserved for the emperor. It’s a wonderful sight to see this line going on and on. Then, adding to this perfection are 2 massive areas, both of which mimic a design of 3 primary halls. These halls, as far as I could understand, revolve around perfection and harmony of some kind or another, both on earth and on heaven. This central grid structures the entire place.

What I found most interesting, though, about the Forbidden City were the smaller, quainter palaces branching off to the sides of the center. You could tell this was where the imperial family actually lived, and this really was the only place in the City that actually felt livable and comfortable. Everything else was cold and just meant to display power.

I wandered around the Forbidden City for nearly the entire day, before leaving and walking around Tiananmen Square, which is basically just a huge open space that has great views out back towards the Forbidden City. It’s like standing in a massive football field in the scorching sun. After this, I began my walk back to my hotel, and, as I always do, realized how the true heart of a city, I think, is in the places a bit off the main drags. I love those scenes of ordinary life you catch glimpses of in passing. Like people eating, walking their dogs, or just passing the time on a bench. It makes you realize how we are all so similar, just living life one day at a time.

A good start to Beijing today… tomorrow I’m off on a hike around a less known part of the Great Wall.

A Message Found in a Bottle at Sea

Sudden and deathly and full
Of madness that oozes from crevasses
I cannot find we walk

On cliffs and throw rocks
Down to tunnels that flow
Off to seas we can no longer

Find on maps we store in
The dank and dirty attics that whisper
To us on cold nights when

Rain falling is the only
Sound we care to hear – how
Did we get here? The

Captain has fallen off the ship and
We see him waving in the waves while
The storms build and there is just a

Long, lone white bird cawing in the
Wind and I lean to listen but discover
Only a howl and a crash and

The fingers sinking beneath waves that
We can no longer penetrate with cries in
This pitiful night… where

Is the light
House we once knew?

A Benediction for Times to Come

A Benediction for Times
To Come

So the journey ends at a
Place that we must call:
The beginning. A

Start to things we must not
Finish or find in hidden, far-
Away places that we thought to
Go to when once we played
Drums and trombones in
Quiet coffee bars in
Rainy Denver days. It

Must be a winding path that comes
Out at us as we think
Of sunshine and men on
Cliff-sides and days we whistle
And whisper of times and places we

Knew little of except the thought
That the beginning is an
End, as well…

Thoughts on Lost Lines

I could not find the
Best lines to write to
The lone man high
Up on trails I
Cannot find…

Giving them to the wind
Or the mailboxes with
A flag always up but
Never put down. I owe
It to a quiet stream or a

Night-time terror that half
Wakes you up and in dream
States I reach out and think of
Songs of hills and lines I threw
To the wind and now…

Cannot find.

Visions of a West, Lost

So much and so
Little like a lone and
Dusty road you come
Down from mountains lost
In snow and rain and clear
Cascades of sky that you

Look up to and out on days
And nights with smoke that
Billows up into a clear
And cool campfire sky. I

See it as small, wooden works
And wood that creaks under boots
With mud and chills and looks
Out to hope and songs that we
Hear on nights when all there is

Is us lost,
Somewhere high
Up.

A Poem Found in a Cave

Editor’s Note: Discovered
Behind a stone in deep,
Barren dirt.

Off on ancient ridges by
Falls that tumble down to
A hand that waves at
Me in the dark I

Seem to see walls in mist and
Gray men in suits tapping
Down alleys that I knew I could
Find once but lost
To a song sung on cold

Nights by fires that burn in
Deep canyon caves that we
Can only find by the bright
Lights of hands traced on

Ancient ridge walls. I…

Think so much of days in
Forests and feelings of running
Like a child lost…

In the dark.

Ode to the Immigrant

Ode to the Immigrant, Cast Off
From Foreign Sands

Off on long and distant ways, the
Days across oceans and waters
That sink deep to trenches
Without sound. I

Think that songs sung out at
Night in quiet towns by rivers
That flow to
An endless sea must
Mean something more

Than scribbled words in
Windowless rooms. This or

A cancer that festers and we
Do not remove it
In time… Just,

All those who come and came
Across time and oceans and
Who whispered hope to winds
That were to carry them to lands
Where all are welcome to till and

Raise up words that fit into
A clear, blue and patient
Sky. Where do

We go next?

In Praise of the Poem

In Praise of the Poem,
Written at the Start of a New Year

It refreshes me this odd
Art of putting words-to-
Words. It is a

Sense of peace in places
That seem all
Wrong. It is

Soft sound I think in
A cruel well that swallows up
Most things you throw
Down. But, this

Small sweetness remains and
Sustains if,
Only for a little while. It

Refreshes me this odd
Art of putting
Words-to-words.

A Poem Found Beneath a Tree

I like to think of it as
A king in a bed who
Never wakes up. A kiss
Good-night and then that is
All… slipping away in

The dead of night. A
King, once. Or

The lone splash of lines falling
Into cold mountain water that
Came from a frozen pond by
A mill that ground stone from

An old mine with loose, lean
Floor boards. So much

Time and memories of trains
On tracks that creep across
Mountain-sides that we cannot
Take anymore. Just the sound

Of birds in bushes and the
Soft rustling off of little pale
Forms that whisper of

Time in bottles that we float
Silently downstream.

Notes on How to Read a Poem

It is such a foolish mis-
Conception to think that words
Tell us what they mean. That
To read is to read about what:
We see. That

Words do not
Fall apart and
That we must see
This breakage and wreck-
Age if we
Want to
Know what a thing
Really: means. It’s

Between
The words. The moments
Of shadows and sunlight spilling
Down the sides of distant
Hills that we catch just as an after-
Thought as we round the bend by the
Tree that was broken by the lightning
Bolt out of clouds that screen what
We just can’t see. I see

That to know we must see
What we can’t see when words
Hold too tightly together.
Too solid. Too firm. Rather

Celebrate the bro-
Ken the way we
Push words aside to see
That ancient light lurking
Somewhere within…

Six Stanzas Found in Old Books

Once you came out of the far
Off mountains and no one
Recognized you. You who

Once came away with the
Sunlight on early morning lakes.
The sweet smell of grasses

And songs lost beneath pillows
We found in the very back of
Dark closet walls. Autumn or

Winter for us on hills and the
Way the mountain felt like a
Way of knowing that was lost

Long ago. The hills and sweet
Rain on broken panes and the
Endless calls of smallness and

The way we walked off as I
Called through trees with wind
That muffled all the sound.

Mountain Rambles on August Days

Often on steep sloping sides I
See shadows by shadows and
Songs of birds in trees
I cannot find. Where

Are we going? The path leads
Up and on. The

Sign-post is broken and
Points off to ruined homes high
Up hills. Nothing but
Old stones still held up

By time and the thought
That us and we can fight
Through storms to summits where
There is nothing left except

Lightning strikes and huge
Pieces of rough-hewn marble with
Dates and names of people long

Since settled back into
The earth. It holds us out
And brings us back once
Again… these views and

Vistas of trails hiked once
And seen now from the distance –

The long view taken from
The trail we never took.

Poem-Hunting in Far-Away Lands

In search of a poem, a line to
Form those more-perfect words that
I can just barely find on
Hillsides in the sun and
A tall, lone tree that stands there
By itself, glimmering…

Like those words I come back to on
Distant days in far
Flung lands where I walk under a
Bridge and smell sweet
Roasting chestnuts in a July
Christmas market. Toys and gifts.

That perfect metaphor, or
A quiet line that spills through to
Bright days in a desert. Such red
Soil, like the blood of
Ancients. Seeping and becoming one
With a pale blue sky that I

Reach and reach off to but
Cannot grasp. It is

Too far away so I
Stay here and think of
That little cryptic word
Wriggling around in

The sinews of a time
In winter gardens and the
Bright blue of deep songs
In dark distant and still
Summer skies.

An Ode to the Blue

Observed Once In Silent Hills

You always see it, such an
Endless expanse of blue that
Goes on and on to quiet
Ridges by grasses that blow

Around old fences from a time
Long ago. Like a sadness

Almost, like such extremeness of
Depth that you must drive and
Drive off and away from it like

Wind rattling a door at night but
Then leaving nothing but
A tipped over pot of plants and

A pile of leaves and bark
In a corner. Yes,

It is always there, you always
See it and know that even on
Dark nights it is
There, waiting somewhere…

For you. This pale,
Opaque, translucent
Blue.

Songs of the Road, Lost Somewhere

I wonder how it sounds after
Darkness falls, and
There is nothing left by
Pale whimpers across
Steep mountain hills. The

Pools puddling
Over beaten rocks. The
Wind whipping over
Narrow ridges. I

Think that we must
Take all of this with
Us somehow. To

The songs on silent
Nights. The sparse words
Spoken at sunset in
Red desert lands. The
Image of shadows. Wind.
Such quiet late at
Night. The rain

That falls and falls outside
Starbucks by harbors with
Great white wings spread
Wide. This must

Become our song, our
Memories of life lived
Out on blue horizons. The

Streams that just go on,
And on…

Exploring Kata Tjuta

Today was an enjoyable day, mainly because it was slower, and I didn’t have to leave at sunrise. That’s the way it is around here. You either leave with the sun, or you leave in the early afternoon to catch the sunset against Uluru later in the day. It’s nice and all, but can be tiring.

Kata Tjuta is the next big sight in this area, and, like Uluru, it is a remarkable rock formation. Instead of just one great rock like at Uluru, though, Kata Tjuta is a collection of rocks (that’s what “Kata Tjuta” means, “many heads”). It is a beautiful, stunning area and I went on a 4 hour hike that takes in the best views, the Valley of the Winds hike.

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Here’s Kata Tjuta. It’s maybe 30 minutes away from Uluru.

When you really get going on the Valley of the Winds hike, you realize how Kata Tjuta is a lot different from Uluru. Uluru feels pretty solid. A giant piece of rock. Kata Tjuta, though, is far more a collection of rocks all smashed together. It’s a conglomerate. Like a bunch of rocks were just randomly formed into one. Because of this, the place feels more fragile somehow. The rocks feel like they’re just barely hanging together.

It is extremely beautiful, though. And extremely quiet and peaceful. With crystal clear running water, and shadows that hang against the rock canyon walls above.

And like at Uluru, you have water trails down the rocks, and great caves way up in the walls.

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The Valley of the Winds trail winds around in the rocks, and at one point opens up to great views out into the distance. Those open views stretch on and on until you pretty much hit the Indian Ocean out in Western Australia.

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The entire hike isn’t too strenuous, and afterwards we headed to see the sunset over Uluru. Check out how the colors change… this is just over the course of 5 minutes.

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These photos say it all…

Walking Around Uluru

Today I set out bright and early for Uluru. It was cold and windy, but the desert was beautiful, with low-hanging and clumpy clouds. I was dropped off at one end of the great rock, and decided to make my way around all of Uluru. In the end, with a lot of stops, it took around 4 hours. Here is my walk…

These are morning views of the desert before I actually started my walk. I find the desert so beautiful and peaceful here. It honestly feels and looks like a dream-world, another planet. So quiet. This path led to the beginning point of my walk, the Mala segment.

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This Mala portion of the walk was awesome because it finally put me front and center, right by Uluru. So close you could touch it. It also made the contours and pot-holes and scars of Uluru that those distant pictures just don’t capture very obvious. Like these great black streaks like paint down the rock left by thousands of years of water moving slowly down the surface, coloring it black.

I also was starting to understand at this point the importance of Uluru as I kept on walking, and how it is basically the book of the Anangu, the original inhabitants of this area. All of the markings on the rock are like words, are stories about the myths that define them. Like these pictures…

These caves are their history. The picture on top is said to be elders of the Anangu (they do have white beards!) frozen in the face of the rock. And many places on Uluru have caves adorned with paintings that served as lessons for the young, teaching them about the area, its plants, animals, and how to survive. This cave is like an ancient schoolroom!

This is the North side of Uluru. Very cold and very windy here.

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I just think this is a beautiful photo. The sun suddenly broke through, and you can just see it above the cave.

Now I’m rounding the Eastern tip of Uluru. It’s taken about 1 hour and a half to cover the Northern side.

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I thought this side, the Southern side, was by far the prettiest. More contours and details in the rock. Look:

One area had been recently burned, and still the great stream lines coloring the rock.

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Uluru just goes up and up! You almost become dizzy when you look straight up these cliff-faces.

Yes! More hands! This reminds me of the hand-prints I saw painted on the wall in Altamira in Spain… it just goes to show that humans, across space and time, have always felt the need to paint their hands. To say, “I was here!” The other marking is for a waterhole, which makes sense because this was right by:

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Have you ever seen anything more beautiful in your entire life? I mean honestly, just look at that! This is the Mutijulu Waterhole. Spectacular! I just stood and stared and stared…

These are also right by the Waterhole, and the markings again tell a story. Uluru as a giant book.

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And… back to where I started from. 4 hours in. You can see in this one the hand-rail you can hold on to if you’re insane enough to try and climb Uluru. Today it was closed because of high winds at the summit. I would do this if I wanted to die in a cool place… hah-hah!

Off to Uluru

There are a lot of places in the world I never really thought I would ever get to see, whether because of timing, distance, or political unrest. For a long time, in fact for probably the bulk of my life, I never dreamed I would make it to Uluru. It just always seemed too remote, too far, too much of everything. Like it was on another planet. Lost somewhere in the distance.

But, today I saw it.

It still surprises me, considering all of the odd and strange and beautiful places I have been to, how that thrill still gets to me. That greatest of natural highs. An almost uncontainable happiness and personal satisfaction. That feeling that you did it, the world be damned. My other great joy about being in places like this is also perhaps more vain. I love being the first one in my family to have ever been here. The place is mine in a sense. My own in my family, and every foot-print a step forward into uncharted family waters. It’s a great feeling.

This is, though, just the start. I’m here for the next 3 days, and am going to take it slow. Seeing Uluru up close tomorrow, and Kata Tjuta the day after, followed by another, final day in the area. Hey, why not? It seems foolish to come all the way out here just to pick up and leave in a day. I want to settle in, and really get to know the place. Tomorrow I start…

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The view from my deck!!! I’m staying at Sails in the Desert, a swanky place right by the Rock.

It’s truly called the Red Center for a reason, although right now it is very cold outside. The soil is truly deep red in places, and beautiful purple desert flowers are in bloom. Very, very beautiful. A stark beauty.

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A nice view of Uluru from a lookout.

I came back to the lookout to see the sunset. Such marvelous colors.

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Tomorrow morning I’ll see the sunrise in the Park, right up against Uluru.

Into the Blue Mountains

Today was an interesting and fun day, mainly because it was very un-planned. I opted for an organized tour, which is something I really never do… since I prefer the greater freedom of doing it yourself. But, I think I’m starting to come around. Or maybe I just had a great tour guide…

I set off for Blue Mountains National Park, which is about an hour or so outside of Sydney. I went with a very small group, and probably one of the funniest tour guides around. This guy just had such a dry sense of humor, and there were little moments during the day where I couldn’t tell if I should be afraid, or just laugh. I say this because it was a very rainy, windy, and downright cold day in the Blue Mountains, and there were times when we’d be driving, and he’d be going into great detail and depth about a story, even moving his arms around in the air, but most of the windows would be fogged over, and I swear he didn’t have his hands on the actual steering wheel. But… I guess if you have to go down, this is as good a place as any! In the end, I just laughed anyway. At least I couldn’t see a car coming right at us, if one was coming. Hah-hah.

So, dealing with this cold and rain, we ventured down into a great Grand Canyon-like Park to see an ancient forest. Some of the trees in this area are millions of years old! And this age combined with the seclusion of the valley and the rain dropping on the canopy of leaves above, made for an unforgettable experience. It smelled so fresh and pure. Deep breaths of rain.

Other highlights of the day included lunch in the picture-perfect town of Leura, taking pictures on a sheer, windswept cliff, an Aboriginal rock carving of a kangaroo, and taking a boat back to Sydney on the Parramatta River right where the Olympics had been held. I think at least it was a good final day in Sydney. See for yourself…

It rained and then it stopped all day. The picture on the right shows the famous Three Sisters rock formation in the Park. We went down into the valley below.

Some more photos, and then the giant cable down and down. At the bottom is the ancient forest.

It was just a great quiet forest full of ferns, turpentine, and different types of gum

trees. A lot of this type of vegetation is what the dinosaurs walked around in! Still, far above us, is was raining…

We then took a stop for lunch in the quaint little town of Leura, where I had an excellent chicken meat pie, before continuing to Wentworth Falls, which we had to hike down to. The view was worth it though:

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And then the Falls.

After this it was getting late in the day, and we quickly stopped at a look-out over the Valley. The guide (I wasn’t sure if he was joking?!) said someone was nearly blown off a day back. Well, at least the view was nice.

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The day then officially ended with some rock art, and the cruise back. It was great to go under the Bridge and see the Opera House lit up in the dark!

See the Kangaroo?

Exploring Taronga Zoo

Today I set off on an early ferry from Circular Quay, and made the short trip across the harbor to Taronga Zoo. It was a beautiful morning, cool and crisp, and a slight haze hung over the bridge. The ferry docked, and a bus took me up to the main entrance.

What I really liked about all of this was that you never knew what was coming. Everything is so well-covered by massive green trees and leaves. So much so in fact that from the ferry terminal Taronga more so looks like just an empty cliff, with nothing really behind it. But once you walk through the gate, I think you are hit with probably one of the coolest zoos out there. Taronga is an awesome place.

I say this because it’s one of those places full of such small, interesting details. Like pathways that twist off into the trees. Houses. And then suddenly animals everywhere. Free birds that wander around in the trees. And how it all sits so delicately on hill sides that slowly bring you back down to the ferry. Take a look:

The first animals I came upon were the koalas. It was still early morning, and it looked like they were still slowly waking up. Just down the way from here you hit one of the zoos most famous sights…

Look at the view the giraffes have! That’s one of the cool things about Taronga. It has one of the best views of Sydney. Although I personally think these guys have the better view…

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Taronga also has some of Australia’s great native animals, like the Tasmanian Devil and Kangaroos.

I had never seen a Devil before, and was surprised by how small they were! The Kangaroos and the Emus were in a bushwalk type of exhibit, where there weren’t any fences. You could truly get up close and personal. And all the Kangaroos were sprawled out like the one above.

I then stumbled upon a gorilla feeding before being struck by a spectacular view back to the city. See the Opera House in the distance?

Continuing my descent back to the ferry, I came upon tons of people, but still some great animals. I caught the cat below as it was jumping! This is a Fishing Cat… yes, it literally fishes. The one on the end is a Red Panda, who I happened to come upon perched on the end of a tree.

From here, I set back off across the harbor, admiring the view, and the late-day sun.

 

Sydney Opera House and Around

I’m starting to appreciate wintertime in Sydney. It rains, and then it drizzles, and then it just barely clears up… and you see the sun coming through. But then the best thing of all is how this leaves behind a smell in the air that I can’t quite place. It’s very sweet and tropical, and honestly reminds me of a perfume on a passing lady. I’ve actually caught myself thinking this is what I’m smelling, perfume coming off a person. And I look, but no one is there. This lingers in the air all day.

Walking in these daily rains, I first set off for the Sydney Opera House, which is just down from my hotel. I got there early, and pretty much had the place to myself. And what struck me about the Opera House is that it definitely fits the mold of those magical places you visit, but then in all honesty you can’t quite say what makes the place so magical in the first place. It more so just has a feel, and even a smell. I was reminded of an old bookstore type of smell, and for some reason the interior felt like a jump back to the 60s, with its orange carpeting, and deep woodwork. I even had a chance to sit in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, where they were changing sets for a Mozart opera that’s opening soon.

But the real magic is on the outside, where you can literally walk around the entire Opera House. It’s here where you can really appreciate the odd and interesting angles of the building, and realize up close that the Opera House isn’t actually completely white. When you get right up close to it you see that the building is covered in white and yellow tiles. Very cool. The appearance of it being white is just an illusion.

After making my way around the Opera House, I set off into the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens right next door. These head south, and as you walk you come upon views of the Opera House and Bridge, and small details, like flowers in bloom, birds yelling overhead, and the strange and annoying crush of tourists streaming off their identical white buses and taking the same pictures with the same looks by the same views. It’s only once you break free from all of this, and just walk in the rain that you start to discover new things. Like the beautiful red flowers blooming below some rock stairs that once you get up to you discover that it has a perfect view of the Opera House.

All of this led to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has some great paintings hanging on its walls. I spent an hour or two here before I got tired, wandered through downtown, until having a nice coffee by my hotel in the Rocks. Just finished the day now with some rock oysters from just down the way at a restaurant near the harbor. And it’s still raining outside.

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Getting to Australia

Where am I? How long have I been gone? Or… a better question, what season is it? What’s the time???

It is such a blur, flying through time zones, across an ocean, into a new hemisphere, and into a new season. It’s just cold here, nippy and rainy. I haven’t shivered like this since December. But… I’m now in Sydney. And it’s winter. Outside right now it’s raining, and I have my heater on in my room upstairs.

I didn’t just magically appear here, though, and these last 18 or so hours have been fun and brutal and crazy and oddly inspiring and beautiful all at once. I was rushed around the tarmac at LAX in a speeding bus, waiting for planes as they coasted by the window, at around mid-night. I thought it was really cool when I crossed the International Date Line in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific, and felt like I was cruising in a hotel up in the plush and awesome Dreamliner. Then the sudden shock of landing in winter in New Zealand, and walking the tarmac to find the bus to take me to the International Terminal. New Zealand, even just through the windows of the terminal, looked so stark and cold. And you could just feel like you were in the middle of nowhere… like you were somehow at the end of the world. Or at least removed from what you’re used to.

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This is the New Zealand landscape from the airport…

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Here’s another view of New Zealand…

And then Sydney itself was such a surprise, meaning that it almost seems small, or even other-worldly, if that makes sense. Or isolated. Distant and faraway. Like it’s somehow in a snow-globe, those sights you make-up in your mind. The Sydney Opera House felt like one. And the Sydney Harbor Bridge. But, maybe my perception is skewed, looking out at them from across the harbor.

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This is the Russell Hotel, where I’m staying. It’s right next to the Harbor.

Tomorrow, when I’m rested, I’ll see them closer up, all of these sights. Starting with the Opera House…

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Here’s a view of Sydney’s downtown, right by the harbor.

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A glimpse of the Opera House behind a massive cruise ship!

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The Sydney Harbor Bridge, from the roof of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is pretty much next door to my hotel.

The Return of J. Humbert Riddle

Editor’s Note: After a
Long period of absence and
Forgetfulness, I found the
Courage to dig deep into the
Pile of moldy Riddle poems. This
Is what I found…

Excerpt 7

… Long ago on mountain cliffs I
Threw unfinished, broken
Poems to the dry wind. These

Bits of a lost self. These pages
Slowly dissolving in
Cool mountain lakes.

Excerpt 19

So it happened that wild stares
Greet me in towns as
The wild hawk soars as
The beer spills over battered
Muddy boots as
Songs can no longer be heard from
An unplugged juke box as

I push through fog towards
The windy, wild shore.

Excerpt 2

I did find it once, this
Patient, quiet longing for
Higher things. The touch
In the stormy night. The

Smell of clean mornings beside
Crisp alpine streams. The
View like a carpet rolling on and
On. I

On cliff-sides and thinking
About green vases with
Pink buds picked from unknown
Gardens behind thick, waving
Aspen trees. Once…

The hint of madness,
The hint of lov

An Ode for Lost Things

Songs like winds that blow
Down from things lost below
Stairs… sifting and sifting. It

Is never enough. The doors

That slam shut on floors we
Once walked down. The whispers
Behind walls. The tap tap
Of quiet rain on misty window
Panes. I cannot think of these things

Without thoughts of drives along
Wet roads. The broken stair with
The one creaking board. That

Coin I dropped but cannot
Find. Pulling away dusty
Cupboards in pursuit.

Photos I never took. Marbles
That roll along cold floors. These

Like songs on distant hill-sides on
Windy, way-laid days.

Snaps in barren woods.
The creak of hinges beside
Cool mountain streams. These

Like a song, lost,
Somewhere in
The distance.

Quiet Streams that Whisper, Once

I wish I could tell you
About the wild beauty of
Distant slopes seen
Through the thick haze of
Squalid towns. The

Crunch of broken rocks. The
Silent hawks caught in a
Warm, wild breeze that blows
In before a storm with clouds that
Were coughed up from a desert
Lake near waterfalls that twist through
Steep, rugged and red
Canyon walls. All of

This… all is lost
Somehow to wild men in
Bushes who scrounge for coins and
Cotton that brakes off from stems
Shattered by the horses I can still
Just hear passing beyond the barren
Mountain gulches. I wish…

The carts go up the canyon and come
Down again. They move on
And off, while I
Am left sitting here smelling
Sweet lawn water sprinkling up
Across green locks and hear
The clouds break off and cool into
Colors of red and pink and, somewhere
In the distance: the purple that breaks
Into a house no one
Can find.

Mementos from the End of Time

“… scraps of memory found in dull minds…”

At the end of time, when
The trees can no longer stand and
Small birds fall
Down from the pale sky, I

Think I’ll take that barren path that
Stretches out to the
Forgotten, though calm, lake…
And sit –
And pick up little sharp rocks –
Tossing them into
The broken water.

While the lone boat of a
Lone man paddles off into
The distance. So,

This is the place I’ll be and
Where you can find me, if
You want. Look for
The stick up against
The hollow tree. The
Golden time-watch inside. Or,
Find me in the dirt on boot-soles
Left warming beside slowly
Dying fires. The letter left
Unopened in the metal
Mailbox… but waiting…

Always waiting like the man seen
Far ahead on a trail. His
Back to us as he rounds a corner by
A tree… but, somewhere, in
The green thick of the trees he
Waits, a walking stick
In hand.

While an old, worn
Book remains open and
Hidden in a deep, quiet
Cavern, somewhere…

The Wanderer’s Lament

The Wanderer’s Lament, Spoken Aloud
In Distant Lands

You were once so
Wild. So much like the
Dirt picked up on broken
In shoes that stormed off
On cool mountain days. Once

You had descended into
Dark pyramid holes. Sweat
Staining a hat burned by
The stern sun. A wild,
Unshaven, sun-mad man
Unable to come home. Yes,

You could not be found except
In postcards and in the vague
Memories of midnight baristas who
Brought you a café and cream. You
Who were known by the wind that
Blew up bits of tattered paper, or
The ripped out sections of guide books left

On tables by steep mountain cliffs
Where you drank wine and ate olives
Picked from the fertile fields
Below. You,

The traveler the wanderer and
Lone man lost to crowds by dark
Cathedrals lit only by bent
Candles near pale,
Beckoning saints.

You, I think,
Were here once…

To A Poem, Lost Once

Fare well, frail, little poem
Of mine. Be gone and try to
Find your place in this
Beautiful, cruel world. I

Can do nothing else for
You. You must go on and find
Those spaces where time is
Infinite, and the broken page
Can no longer hurt. It

Is gone, just as we are suddenly
Gone and like the dust you pick
Up and blow out of your hand. Gone
Like the wind that blows around a corner
We cannot quite see. So

Go my little poem, leave
Me to new thoughts and new
Ways of finding old things.

Voices of the Wandering

Voices of the Wandering
(After T.S. Eliot)

… “We shall not cease from exploration…”

Off on the timid Thames we
Found frail voices that shall
Not
Call us to cease
Or come away from…
Our endless exploration.

Because they whip and
Worship the lands the
Distant end
Of things of
Ways of knowing all
That we thought our
Crying and exploring
Ultimately will
Lead to a state where we be

Like paintings to
Gods that arrive
And speak about where
They say that we
Got it all started…

Yes, we fell and
Now seem to know
That the
Greatness of a place
Is that it sings out for
Old dirt and the
Time we first
Came out to find… time.

Sad Palmyra, Ruined Again

Such wanton madness such
Bat-blind destruction and
Death of beautiful things. I think of

Rampages at night. Cries
From the ruined walls of
Ancient sites: heads lopped
Off, temples toppled, shot
At and blown
Away. Then,

Quiet men
Taken to broken amphitheaters…
An old-time
Entertainment, renewed. Such

Madness such death
In ancient sands. As
Men grin at tattered
Statues that once held up
Grand archways over grand,
Roman parades. Of cheers

To conquering men. Of
Wine spilled of madness
On burning hill-
Sides where we see tanks
Bursting forth and still…

That silence of centuries of
Men and of women who lived
Here once but blew away like
Sandstorms on dark nights that
Blot out those distant stars we
Just can’t quite see. Lovely,

Palmyra…

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part I

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

I. Claps of Thunder

I sat in a cell once, long ago,
In Athens it was, crying for that dead
Wasted body of pale Pericles… our hero.

Wine mixed
Not enough. I

Saw broken bits
Of corpses bouncing by –
Such sad women,
Such sad women – all
Pushed downstream to
The still, tepid waters of
Our port,
At Piraeus.

Wine mixed not
Enough. When

Young and bounding
Over rocks on
Star-cold sands by
The clay site at Siwa I
Stared at grimy papyrus
Scrolls, stared
At a king, a king left
Stabbed and silent by
A solemn pool,
A pool in
The dry, mythic mountains
Of perfumed Persia.

Wine mixed…

In Utica in a sparse room,
In a dead
Desert city, I
Found Cato mumbling
And mumbling about

The claps of thunder that come
Before the damp rains chill the
Silent statues the
Crowded squares of
Speckled Rome.

Wine…

Posted as Part of Poet’s United Sunday Poetry Pantry

An Egyptian Hunt

Je me souviens

I am more convinced… more
Prone to stop in my walks,
Staring at lone blades
Of grass. I

Will stop.
I will scratch
My mind and toss
Time to canopic jars. Yes,

Canopic jars I
Pick up and rearrange,
Pick up and rearrange, placing
Some behind chairs I
No longer sit in, down
Hallways I am too afraid
To walk down…
Just past that door
I used to push open
Into our rose garden.

Some I put in purses.
Hide in the soft felt lining
Of fur coats for
Safety.
For safety. But,

The jars, no matter
How secretive how
Wild, pass and
Repass through
Vague secrets of lost time.
Moments by ponds –
Past seconds measured out
With spoons on mornings
Too early for rising –
The dawn crisp.
Almost disconcerting.

***

I would like to take
My canopic jars and plunge them
Under a tepid pool
Of pale water.
I would work at them
With rough hands, twisting
And twisting… the clock
Breaking from the water
I push up
From my tub. Then,

The top is popped. I
Squat to the floor
And listen, expecting
A heartbeat.

***

The jars only hold so much.
I think they are full
Of mystery, of some
Sacred second trapped
Forever, like little worlds
Of water and snow
Picked up on long forgotten
Vacations.

I shake and I shake.
I turn the jars over
And pound them harshly
Against the floor.

Jars of sunshine
And snow, of
Days ticking beyond
That precise pounding
Out of time. Days
Of moments. Days
In the rain during an afternoon
Walk in Ayutthaya –
Mists among
The ruins.

***

They are the smell
Of nights before rains.
They are the sounds
Of midnight thunder.
The hush before a storm.

I hold them close, these
Canopic jars… the paths
I take and took.
The routes to towns
I got stuck in…
If only for a little while.

Posted as part of Poets United Poetry Pantry

Travels, Once

Memories that are a
Mess in my
Mind – they –
They flash and burst
Across the inner eye
Of my mind, and
I see them…
I see them?

***

Ishmael pumping gas
With the car still
Running, running like
The morning beauty of Lauterbrunnen
Cascading, girt in mists,
In the background
Of the day. Or

Subjected to the awful beauty
Of a morning walk
In Aix: the light
Falling at such angles
That houses are painfully
Precise – standing out like
A blasted thump in
A symphony of strings. Or

It is the smell of chestnuts
On a Christmas day.
It is a route through an
Ancient town. Road stones
Worn down by centuries of
Tired feet.

It is wine.
It is waste. It

Above all is the bright
Light of a Swiss
Dawn – the warmth of
A blanket in the cool
Mountain air. It

Is a memory?

Mosaic Making – Upon a Time

… These fragments I have shored against my ruins…

V.

I fell in love here once,
So ancient, so wild. Streams
That flowed past, down,
Past rocks that lined
The lone, fragrant shore. While
Time was etched in tree trunks,
And grasses pushed, pushed
Aside on hikes that wound
Back to our quiet village…
Hidden between the mountains,
And a waterfall. Yes,

Rough pavements pounded down
Pebbles, and bits of broken stone we
Skipped across smooth streams that flowed
Down to trees danced under, all
Wet from rains and whistling,
Whistling to match the tap tap
Tap of boughs,
Against boughs.

X.

Then, tables on trails we traveled
Over, twisting and twisting and
Leading us… home again? To
Ripened products of farm
And field, and to
Votives I did not light but
That glowed in darkness that flowed
In, past glass shards
Scattered and scattered, stabbing
At our feet. Blood and time

Slipping by, like plates wettened still
By soap we flung out
From carousels rode so fast
On nights when clouds fell
Down and blotched,
Battered the frail turrets of Time.

I.

Gears shot, bolts busted by rust –
Clogs cling to clogs… but

Grasses grow and grow,
Climbing up the sides of rides
We ride together in
Meadows and valleys in
Wild rains at midnight in
Thunder that breaks and breaks in
Tunnels we dug out of
Such soft and supple Earth, picking
Fragments of bone and pottery as
We go – Pieces I think
Of love of
The mosaic we piece together, joining
And breaking, joining and
Breaking.

Published as part of Dverse Open Link Night

The Complete Jim-Bob, Shepherd-Man

In This Monody the Author Bewails a Learned Friend, Unfortunately Left for Dead in Distant Lands, 2014. And by Occasion Reveals the Ruin of a Defunct Tradition, Long Fallen from Grace.

I.

Yet once more, yet
Down, crawling down on arid plains,
Parched plains where I search, I…
Search for my flock.

I cannot find my flock.
I cannot find my flock. I

In mountains while they drown
With thirst, while they search for
Deep pools I knew of once. Long ago.

Who would not feed my flock? I
Cannot find
My flock. I

Alone on ridges, moored to a mad man who
Scratches ruts in ridges down there, down
There I hear him, yes humming? Yes? Humming such
Sweet songs down
Below.

Should we stop and listen? They
Are such sweet songs. They should not
Float by, unheard
In these dry mountains, in these parched
Desert lands. I

Will listen.
I will write.

II.
Arise then, you sister siblings, you spawn
Of nine nights of lust and leavings. Arise!

But… where have you gone? I have
Forgotten your mother’s name. I think
Though that she would not be pleased
By this, by this mess of broken harps,
With strings frayed, and by those
Unbound books smoldering so close
To propane fires – yes so close – and
Fed by pens and pages
Ripped from dictionaries. Yes,

I see “Myth” withering in the flames, like a fist
Forming over stolen rubies. And cigarettes still,
Still smoking by glasses with lip stains. Doors
Slamming shut down dark corridors
We dare not take. Foot-steps. Moonlight echoes
Falling across fountain-splashed,
Cold courtyards. Even

The woods whisper of our loss. See
How they hunch together in close conclaves
Of rattling leaves. Also

Our sheep seem so bored
By us, casting back dull,
Hollow eyes – laughing even
In dank desert caves.

They never come when I call,
Howling on my horn.

The apples are: apathetic.

I trudge through grasses that,
Yawningly, sway
Away.

III.

So where were ye guides? Teachers? Shepherds
Of us shepherds? I searched. I searched and saw:

Dead pens, bleeding ink. Busts of bards
With hoary heads: missing. Gone. Taken by
Untamed, wild women who float broken
Hands down stagnant streams, where the drowned
Poet still sings to say:
“Lines fall down here. Bobbing in streams
Without source. Yes, I harshly sing. My
Dry, wasted voice. Please… just please
Sift my limbs from the muddy river. We
Must face the thankless muse, intact. We

See things align. And bent books bend
Back. Yes, washing our tired eyes we see:
The cold casket come.”

IV.

They say the unshorn sheep
Drug off the corpse, and mourn
It now in mountain caves. But,
Still they come, these sad shepherd men, groping
Among the weeds groping, scratching
On this brittle, battered box. Look…

Whitman’s dry walking stick snaps. He
Tumbles down, devouring dust, and
Cries:
“My boots! My boots! I’ve lost
My boots along the way. Down
In the dust, barren of boots.”

Melville, there, watch as he walks
Anxiously pacing, pawing
His sweaty palms together.
Knocking off black hats he does. Wailing
For water in our dry, wasted land.

Eliot, too, fishes from a fir stump. His line
Broken, gnawed through by rats creeping
Through the slimy vegetation.
“Twit twit,” he mumbles. “Jug Jug,”
He cries. Echoes these

That touch an aged Odysseus. Bent man. Hunched
Over man twisting and turning round and
Round the casket carriage, tapping
As he goes –
Ta-tap, on each wagon wheel. Ta-tap. Tap.

Then… comes Milton. Look. He stumbles, blinded,
Frayed fabric lashed to his eyes. While
One hand hangs down, dangling, dropping
Ivy seared and brown.
“Blind mouths,” he mutters. “Dull,
Blind mouths.”

V.

Surely, though, these mourners must not
Be blamed. They plod – along – searching
As we all – search – see
How they look up,
But are not fed. No,
The nostalgic nightingale falls

From the tree. Its lament
We cannot hear
Its lament.
Crying, “Jug Jug”
To our waxed over ears.

VI.

“Is that a capsule we pull up
From the earth?”
That’s time’s grave
That is. “Find then a hammer then.”
No.
We’ll smash it with our hands. “Move
Aside. Move Aside. One, two,
Three…”
“Jug, Jug.” On
The ground, trampled. “Jug.” The

Books we take
Down from the
Shelves. The compass
Wanders round
And round
The map that
Describes
Pastures we
Cannot find.

The clocks are covered,
In canvas.

Round we go. Round
The prickly pear at 5 o’clock in…

“Jug.”

(… Madness. Was that madness,
Just then? I heard:
A dread voice. But it has past,
Shrinking back into
Stagnant streams that do not flow.
We should proceed then,
Plodding our way through…)

VII.

The cedar saplings strewn with broken
Bits of straw. While tall, sparkling amaryllis
Rises above the rest of syringa
Trees, mute in fir forests draped in
Aphroditic rosemary – “that’s for remembrance” –
While white periwinkle fastens itself to

The ground. But, these flowers grow beyond
Our reach. We must not crawl content through
Cedar saplings, frail and withered, while green
Spotted rhododendron poisons our water-bound
Lilies of the swamp we slog through,
Burdened by the coffin we carry, plucking as

We go: Hyacinths. We love:
Hyacinths. “They called me
The hyacinth girl.” Rising up red
From the dead,
Parched brown land.

VIII.

So weep on, woeful shepherds, weep on.
We slouch towards the water-side, gazing
Up at the cliff-side, where, efficiently
Done, crisp figures on jagged peaks hurl over
Our rich, time-worn tomes. While we bleat.
Wailing when they smash and crash
Into the waves, sinking

Down, deep, beyond our reach they
Go. They go. Never to rise again. So,
We wait, aimlessly. Waiting on
Our lone shore.

Wiping tears from pale eyes.

IX.

Thus sang the uncouth swain to his purblind
Flock, to those who hear his wail, but
Bend not to his words. Just

Gorging. Gorging
Gaily they go, picking at weeds, roving
Aimlessly over hills. Of

Pasture lands pale.
Wasted. Sinking
Into the western bay. Away

Then, I’ll go up to fresh woods with
Deeply rooted trees. Where the song
Sings. Where the fresh pasture acres
Wave with fresh grasses that sing
In soft breezes… and that I, lone man
Wandering away,
Long to hear.

4 Stanzas for Dominique

1.
Madness,
Dominique it is
Madness – pure, unadulterated
Looking, yes you looking
Out at us viewers, unknown?

2.
Hair, your hair bouncing
In curls, your hair. A touch
Soft of cigarettes between
Lips, pink and pursed together.

3.
Dominique… more… I
Words failing words
Like plates crumbling on floors
That collapse as you walk, float
Across so graceful –
Always so graceful, Dominique.

4.
I, then, hoard away, lock
On rainy days under arms
Looks stored beneath floor boards –
Or, on snowy days, on mountains
Where cars park, waiting, waiting while
Your image, Dominique, is all
Askew, pounding on quiet window
Panes. I look, I do, Dominique,
But…

Boxes and Batteries

On a bus in a deep Asian jungle,
Full of rain and wet,
I thought of a time when I
Held my memories in my hand,
Squeezing them and squeezing them…
So alive.

I thought of a box with a lid
Cracked open, a gap where we see
Time walked in parks, hands held in
The fading light of a distant day. Hollow
Trees on campus greens, places where
Gold was hidden. Moments so
Fragile, like plates thrown into
The air, suspended.

People I wave at, smiling.
I knew them once.

Yes – a kiss hurled by the hand,
Like a football toss in a game. Looks
Before lights dim, glimpses and
Memories trapped, sealed in a box I
Hold under my arms on days when views
From cars mingle with my mind, and
I’m taken from jungles to dry moments when
People waved, and I waved back.

Last Images of Beijing

Today was a day of wandering around Beijing, picking up a few more sights, and taking a few photos. They say it best:

The view of the hotel, and the street it is on. A nice area to explore.

IMG_4735

Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, where he rests embalmed inside. Also in Tiananmen Square.

Then the truly massive National Museum of China. Inside it is a huge, huge place! In the bottom of the Museum is the Ancient China exhibit.

After the Museum, here’s a final shot of Tiananmen, from the actual Gate that looks out over the Square, with a side street en route back to the hotel.

And… a final noodles and rice.

IMG_4746

Tomorrow I’m off to Xi’an.

Visions of Soundless Nights

Deep down and distant
Days of thunder-struck
Senses and sounds of sweet
Rain coming from clouds that

Part from towns we hear as
Motion from meadows and
Birds that call to calm and
Curious shapes that fall

Like sound in scented barrels
Of time.