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Another long, difficult draft…

November 21, 2006

“Bird Tracks”

I.
Zen masters are to be
like the tracks of birds in the sky,
untraceable, always their own—
not self-consciously proclaiming
or not-proclaiming,
either.

We learned.
That was our beginning.
Five-hundred miles from me, you talked,
drinking only one cocktail before calling,
to calm your nerves, but keep your wit.
You read Buddhist philosophy aloud.
Eventually, leaving the drinks,
and claiming a dimension
you saw in me, in us.
I could not see.

We didn’t know each other, yet.
I preached the Middle Way. Then, let you
distinguish between your insights:
it is all meaningless,
or meaningful. No. I said.
It is.

Then,
we would change opinions, our minds
shifting like air.


II.
(I told you once, the child I was wanted to be
a feather-footed Indian, hunting.
But my walk is heavy-heeled.
No number of feathered willows caught around my hair
or war-paint
made me silent.)

It is
all I know to tell: what I understand
to be universal, and my suffering.
Self-conscious remembrances
dropping like breadcrumbs—
once each footfall,
each heartbeat.

And you follow, bird.
Slipping down from your tracelessness
to swallow what I’ve left there, not knowing
that there sometimes is
poison in the tales.

III.
I trail him
in my lost sleep, and imagine
that his breath still comes evenly at night,
begrudging him that peace.
You follow and cradle me.
I know you hope
that your hold might
chase him out.

You don’t know
how many times you have driven me down the street
where he still lives
in a brick house.

I don’t tell you all things.
But, surely you notice. I fall silent,
fingers clinching palms, eyes
hopelessly tracking the alley
where he collapsed me. Though, it was him who left
with bruises, bloody teeth marks on that day.
I could not hold my rage at his words,
ripping my hair and screaming, while the world
swirled closed around me.
Then, I ran nowhere
along root-broken sidewalk.

Surely you hear the crack of pain?
And can still see my colors fly down the sidewalk,
as I can? And see,
see the wreckage running a river
out my soles?

On the day he left, I was wearing
the lavender scarf I let you borrow, yesterday.
It is the one my grandmother gave me
the Christmas before I knew him—
a shield against the cold
I would feel anyway.

When that night fell
I found him, drunk and angry.
There was a bandage over his arm.
And he would not talk or look at me
as I sat down, begging to stay
in our bed. He lay down, clothed. Recoiling, even in sleep,
from my touch. Nauseated,
I lay in hell. Except that I was not dead,
and could not rest.

IV.
The days have spent themselves, with some effort,
for a year. The birds went, and came again,
re-teaching me to eat and sleep,
read, write, and sing.

To come upon you, feathered,
and eager to forge a path unfollowable.
I find myself as yet, unable.
You ask me daily to release my legs, the ground beneath,
the street, the alley, for wings
and the tracks of birds.

We could each make our own way, you say,
stopping only to rest together, to hunt and gather,
without possession.
Then, set soaring again,
one by one,
untraceable.

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