January 14, 2011

Kent Newkirk

COMET HYAKUTAKE

I am a tourist. I get lost. I think maps are for the witless
who think they know where anyone is going. I wear
Hawaiian shirts in Paris, and stand by the principle
that suntan lotion is for mortals who burn.
For guidance, I take solace from Socrates, who said,
“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”

I am human. I explore. I’ve seen satellites sent where no man
can see in search of answers no man can answer. I’m on a
mission, a quest. I want to go where Everyman has gone before.
So don’t get in the way with your maps and your questions,
don’t expect me to put the brakes on at the next easy exit,
and don’t get me going about stopping for directions.

I’m a believer, a believer in long trips with destinations undetermined
by compass points. I once swore there could be no such thing
as a wrong turn if you didn’t have a clue where you were going.
What—besides an infant—could possibly be more innocent
than a wrong turn, right?

But it wasn’t as if I picked that particular night for a baggage check,
a surprise inspection that spilled my contents,
revealing that on this and every other trip the suitcase
I’d been packing was full of nothing but empty,
just another case of one man ill-equipped to find himself,
once again, the Einstein of the obvious, discovering—
as if for the first time—that in March, after dark,
the desert is cold in Arizona, a wrong turn
down any world’s alley, too far from anyone’s home.

I am a listener. I long to hear. There was a time I heard nothing
but the sound of no one listening, the same refrain I found myself
begging to hear that night on the Cactus Plain of Arizona:
The sound of no one home.

Not a chance. Not that night. That night the wind sent a message,
and the stars passed unanimous sentence with quick-set, jury eyes,
lifeless eyes that looked, but were not dead. That night, whispers
weren’t the only voices I heard spooking me, turning out to be
nothing but me swearing, swearing, swearing that never in this life,
or the next, or any other should I have listened to the shamans
of Sedona or bikers of Parker, twin disciples of different prophets
preaching inbred gospels of finding one’s self in the airs of Arizona.

Because I found myself all right that night in March of ’96,
I found myself twisted, caught in the open, assumptions cut
by the wind, curled up tight in the fetal position at the foot
of the Buckskin Mountains, born again in that gouge on Earth
the maps define as the Bouse Wash, singled out, easy prey,
chaos so out of place where coyotes call the shots.

And where I found my fine self lost, lost in a staring contest
with the stars who saw right through me, to what’s behind me,
and what’s coming around to face me next, forcing me to turn
and see what they saw behind me, me seeing what I always see,
nothing but everything circling me, a mini-Earth spinning 360s
until those cold stares froze my feet and those same stars
turned on me, looked down on me, my old friends, fed up.

And so found, so found out, so confronted and condemned,
I cowered on that windswept bluff, a cow alone after dusk
with coyotes my invisible herders. Hoofs hobbled, cow knees
carving a hold on Earth’s sharp stone, my cow fingers clawed
at the edge of a canyon, scratching dirt for an answer, or a hole,
or an abandoned missile silo, or any place safe to go hide
on those nights when the stars stare back, looking at you
like you’re on their menu, and their Chef ’s Special is meat,
until you see yourself—as if for the first time—
as just another entrée in the eyes of minds made up
and ready to order you, a cow facing coyotes, alone.

And once again I found myself swearing, swearing, swearing
that if I ever escaped those penetrating eyes I would celebrate,
plead, lay myself prostrate before the priests of science,
the professors of faith, even poetry readers for sanity’s sake,
to please offer their latest takes on myths, on gods, on ETs,
or whatever it’s called when it’s way past late,
the sky is a blindfold, and the only light it lets in pricks the mask
of everything, unveiling traffic cop eyes unmoved by innocence,
unamused by wrong turns, unimpressed with man’s sense of direction.

Returning me home to the simple fact that I am a tourist.
I get lost. I think myself in circles, too secure in guidebook facts
claiming, for instance, that Comet Hyakutake consists
merely of frozen gases and dust, and its luminous halo
as it graced our sun is pure science—an illusion of miracles—
and not the miracle coyotes and their Bouse Wash prey sensed.

I am a whisper, the dark matter between stars, a speck best kept
out of sight. I am one man, one small step ahead of coyotes,
on the run from the lure of the pack. Upon escape, if I look back,
it’s apt to be from the wake of Comet Hyakutake’s tail,
me, debris trailing along, unleashing at last the songs within.
But tonight, if ever, coyotes listen. Hush, sweet howl
long stored in my heart.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010