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…

Up the Nile

Great fires that light
Nights of storms and flashes
In barren lands. Where
Hot sands melt and stain
Hats a pale green. But

Waters are fresh and pale
And hide ancient statues of
Unknown pharaohs that I
Learned of once from worm-
Eaten books.

Dry Thoughts, Spoken Aloud

“I can think back on that time as a stay
As a pale thing that tightens and sits
In dark corners, but that comes to play
With us, us who complicate matters with wits
That cramp styles, that lurch in fits
To dances, to songs of long forgotten comedy:
Of ballets, of dancers, of she who flits
Across broken screens that showed us tragedy:
Of people and laughs and… an eye
A yellow eye that gazed out at smart
Scenes of ancient lawns that would cry
Like broken dreams and like the dark hearts
Of things that sit and moan –
That sit like a smooth, soft stone.”

Two Stanzas for Joy, Wherever She May Be

I.

The light kept on and seen
From fast trains passing by
A silent bridge over a clear
Stream. Feet creaking the
Timbers above.

II.

Symphonic strings heard in half-
Dreams. A scent of lilacs by an
Ancient, chipped place. Solitude.
No person but trees and wind and
The smell of rain somewhere…

On Tour in Thailand

Twisting on paths these mythic
Elephants go, padding through jungles
Misty from centuries
Of rain and rites.

Sitting and watching. Sitting
And watching. The gentle move
Of time, frenzied and sublime –
Hills in fog seen from the backs
Of speeding vans.

Posted as part of DVerse Open Link Night

On the Side of an Ancient Sea

There are certain travel moments when you just feel so small. Sometimes it’s in a massive cathedral in Europe as you’re gazing up at sky-high domes. Sometimes it’s outside, in nature, when you feel so tiny compared to your surroundings. Towering mountains, ocean views, panoramic sweeps that go on and on. Or, one of my personal favorites, when you’re in a museum looking at art work that seems immortal somehow… and you realize you’re just a single spectator that will come and go, while the art will always remain.

I experienced an entirely different feeling of smallness while hiking up Dinosaur Ridge in the Front Range of Denver. It was a more profound, almost jarring feeling of smallness because it extended across millions of years and across dramatically altered and changed landscapes. It included remnants of things long gone, like dinosaur foot-prints and volcanoes, and a landscape that was once a massive sea, all alive with plants and animals – all of which no longer exist. It was eerie, uncomfortable, and inspiring, and all at once. The feeling of being out of place and out of time. Or at least lost somewhere in-between.

An Ancient Shoreline

Along the Shore?

See what you have here is a world where this entire area was a massive sea, and this ridge that we have today is the ancient seashore. So as you walk up the ridge you come across footprints, tidal marks on rocks, and other remains of long-extinct life. You add to this the fact that what was once flat ground is now a great slope. You find yourself then on an ancient shore looking at markings of long-dead things that are oddly now vertical in the air. It’s honestly hard to wrap your head around this much change.

Tidal Marks

Dinosaur Tracks

And, ultimately, I’m left with questions like – what will this landscape be like in another million years? How will we be remembered on a geologic scale? And, perhaps most ominous of all, will we even be remembered… or just lost somewhere in those layers of rock? A small marking in hardened dirt.

Mysterious Concretion

Fragments of a Letter, Found Among the Ruins

Fragments of a Letter, Found
Among the Ruins

Editor’s Preface:
While out on expedition, searching for
Materials for my new book, I came upon these
Fragments in an alcove of a crumbling room tucked
Into the craggy corner of an ancient city, long since
Diminished by time. The text you now see I went
To great pains to re-create. It was faint, blotched, and
Scrawled on the back of a moldy piece of animal
Hide. While by no means an expert, I translated
The foreign tongue myself.

Fragment 5

Alexander, I look back to that day
When I took an arrow, shot
On foreign lands, out beyond those hazy lines
Of our Empire.

Elephants and wild men –
The humming of jungles –
The stomp stomp of barbarians
And beasts – memories, Alexander,
Wet like the Earth wet,
When hit by roaring rains.

Fragment 68

… With screams on Godless nights, razing
People, and towns: Tyre.
The knot at Gordium. Persepolis…
Pounding and pounding the rock steps in
That dry, deserted desert land.

[The next 5 lines are undecipherable]

Wine and fire,
Giggles in royal rooms,
The sweet hiss of flame.

Fragment 1

Alexander, I dealt with death
Alone, sought out solace
Along dank river banks I could not
Pronounce the names of… [these words lost]
White, barren peaks,
Bored Prometheus rattling his chains
On mountains where no clear path
Breaks through. Alexander, your dreams…

Fragment 112

Like violent fits in the night. Us biting
Chunks of wood to ease the pain
Of worlds more beautiful than fires struck
On white Egyptian sands, a journey just begun.

Maps without borders. Empires
Of dust and ice. Sweat
Blooming on brows.

Fragment 3

Alexander, I once whispered stories
To fires that light the night.

[The rest of this fragment worn away]

Published as part of the Poets United Poetry Pantry

Hovenweep and Around

Today was at first a day where I couldn’t seem to find the right road. I wandered around, certain that I was right, but ultimately had to turn around and look at my guide book. I am definitely a humbler traveler because of this. I was looking for Hovenweep National Monument, which is actually just over the border in Utah.

The drive takes about an hour, and goes largely over a gravel road up beautiful McElmo Canyon, which is covered in red cliffs and a very fertile valley that actually grows some wine. I drove right by Sutcliffe Vineyard. You then cross the border into Utah and the landscape becomes a barren, foreboding, bleak, almost scary landscape. Like if your car broke down you might die. Or wander off into the desert like Clark Griswold. Hah-hah. But the bleakness gives way to a site I was very surprising by, mainly because I wasn’t really expecting all that much.

Hovenweep is a series of interesting Puebloan structures that, like Mesa Verde, are built along the sides of a canyon. What makes Hovenweep so awesome is that there are massive towers and palace-like buildings. There’s also a great trail that winds along the rim, going through massive sagebrush, and desert sand. It was also very hot again, and I added a new layer of burn to my “tan.” I hung out here for about an hour before driving off along a barren county road that eventually cut back into Colorado and the Canyons of the Ancients. I was looking for Lowry Pueblo, a place best known for its massive kiva.

And one thing that struck me immediately was basically how Colorado, at least in this area, beats out Utah in beauty. Utah was bleak and barren, whereas he hit Colorado and suddenly you’re in this beautiful farming community. You also drive on a gravel road, and usually pass by farmers working in their field. The end of the road was Lowry, which was great mainly because I had the whole place to myself. There’s nothing like being at a site with no one else around. You tend to forget how much noise people make.

After Lowry I cut back through the fields to a bigger highway, drove through underwhelming Dolores, dropped by the equally underwhelming Anasazi Cultural Center before getting the urge to go back up to Mesa Verde. I only made it as far as the Visitor Center, though, but still love this drive. Tomorrow I head back North, driving the San Juan Skyway in Ouray.

Mesa Verde Day

There are certain places that are like a magnet, and just seem to draw you in. Mesa Verde is definitely one of these places – which I think is ironic considering how long it takes to actually drive up to the ruins from the park entrance! It’s like the place just has a feel. Like you can sense that a lot of human history was lived right here.

Other people know this as well, or at least feel it. One of the things I was struck by today was the many languages heard. There was a lot of French, German, and Chinese. But, this diversity naturally lends to a place that is an international heritage site. No one person or culture owns this place.

Today I basically took in the main sites on just one of the mesas, Chapin Mesa; which has all of the classic Mesa Verde sites, like Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Undoubtedly, though, my favorite part was when I set out on a 2 hour long hike to see some petroglyphs. I am a sucker for rock art, and have seen some of the classics in Lascaux and Altamira. I guess I wanted to see how Mesa Verde stacked up.

My first mistake was just aimlessly wandering down a trail that I didn’t realize was basically an intense rock-climbing trip. You hug the side of a canyon wall, and climb up and down fallen and broken rocks as you slowly amble out to the very end of the canyon, where a single wall of petroglyphs await before you literally climb to the top of the mesa for the walk back. I horribly burned my neck and ears.

The hike, though, was worth it because of the hand prints!! I know this sounds odd to be so excited, but the hand prints on the walls of caves in France and Spain was why I went to these European caves in the first place. These are like ancient signatures. A person saying hundreds of years ago that I was hear and that I made these. What a statement of human creativity! And all of this perfectly supports one of the main things that has been bumping around in my mind. Basically, we are all the same. We sign things across continents and across time. There is something so human in an ancient hand etched into a canyon wall.

I spent the rest of the day driving and climbing around to other ruins. From of all this I would have to say that I am the most struck by the mystery of Mesa Verde. Basically, no one really knows much about this place and the people that lived here. They simply walked off into the desert one day. There’s no written record, and most everything is guess work and speculation. And I love the thought that for something like 500 years this entire place was just a silent ruin. Massive cliff dwellings with no one in them. Only the endless chatter of birds that you can still hear today. This little thought actually gets back to another common theme in all of my travel writing over the years… that travel is, at the end of the day, a very sad, sobering adventure. Everything vanishes, and all of the life lived under these cliffs is essentially forgotten. We all just walk on.

Hiking Chimney Rock

Today was a nice day, mainly because it made me think about so many places I’ve been. Small moments that brought back some memory. I think this was mainly because all I ever seem to go to are ancient ruins and sites that are usually perched somewhere on a distant mountainside. I thought about Macchu Picchu today, Mystras, a small town in Greece, and Delphi. All of these places are remote, and resemble a mountain landscape that looks like this:

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And like this:

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Both of these pictures are near the Chimney Rock National Monument outside of Pagosa Springs. The actual Monument is between Pagosa Springs and Durango, and you hike up to it along a ridge, where you get closer and closer to two giant rocks that dominate the landscape.

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I loved this because it made me realize that human beings have pretty much always been attracted to unusual features in the landscape, and living on remote mountain tops. I’ve seen this all over the world. Along the way you also see the actual ruins, which get more impressive the higher you climb.

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Until you finally reach the top, right next to the rocks, where you have the great pueblo.

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What I found most interesting about this, besides the similarities between this place and others that I’ve been to, is how these people lived underground, in their pit houses and kivas. I like this because it seems to suggest that they found comfort in an underground setting – which usually is the opposite. The underground is a terrifying place for most cultures, since it’s full of irrational and uncontrollable things. But, here, I feel like this is the opposite. The upper world, the normal world, is the terrifying place. It’s like they tried to get back deeper into the earth, rather than rising above it. Which seems to make sense, since that’s where we all came from in the first place.

After seeing Chimney Rock for most of the day I spent some time in Durango, where I hung out at the Strater Hotel, and walked around town.

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