Letter from the Line


Island-hopping in the rough, the rumbustious season,
The migratory poet, most solitary of birds,
Having left Los Angeles with a Kyrie eleison,
Repacks his baggage of carefully chosen words.

For lucky Jim has given his last lecture,
From the bogus mission his wits emerge alive,
From a land where, despite de Tocqueville’s shrewd conjecture,
The liberal arts, like living fossils, survive.

Now in mid-Pacific he looks before and after
Astride the equator, surveys each hemisphere;
And his heart on the watershed between tears and laughter
Is glad to be crossing but cross that you are not here.

Glad not to peddle his prestidigitation
Nor to sing for his supper in islands of alien speech;
Though the natives were friendly enough in their own fashion,
Rubbed noses, hung him with flowers, danced for him on the beach;

Glad, though his mirth is a species of comic horror,
To have seen the salaried Muses display their skill
In the universities of Sodom and Gomorrah:
Blind Homer, Blind Harry treading corn at the mill;

To have seen a land whose living tissues function
Better, they say, with a mechanical heart;
Where the surgeon invites the loblolly boy with unction
To open him up and take his organs apart;

Where the supermarket dictates the range of desire
And the passions are packaged: take the largest pack and you save,
But the jumbo-size blonde who is given free to each buyer
May be turned in for cash if that’s what you’d rather have.

Glad—but of course such observations are silly:
Travellers’ tales are as tall as their comments are snide.
To a visiting comet the cosmos is bound to look chilly
And the whale doesn’t look his best when you travel inside.

But now, sweeping back on the outward arc of its passage,
Sadly the comet surveys its luminous tail,
And, nearing Nineveh with his useless message,
Jonah regrets the belly of the whale.

For you, my friends, are still in the monster’s belly,
We were warm there for a while, we found it fun
To tickle his ribs inside till he shook like a jelly
And gaped with his gullet to give us a glimpse of the sun.

I may not see you again. As the vessel’s motion
Carries me towards my past I review my loss
And the Bear dips down, while glittering from the ocean
Coldly the seven stars dredge up their Cross.

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