©1995 By Bob Litton
THE COST OF LIVING
Beware the dog! Fierce white beast with golden collar!
Each evening it roams from one tree-crowned corner
To a yellow hydrant on another.
Convince yourself: This is really a shortcut,
To follow a road you had never seen,
One that winds with no true compass, northerly
Among high, leaf-haunched mansions
Where you must knock at the back door.
Gaze at a stack of firewood–absurd yet neat–
At the garage with one car missing.
Or turn from the sight, self-righteous revolutionary!
Look at the sky, whose economy you reckoned socialist,
With an equal distribution of colors among the clouds–
But near the western horizon
A bastard-blue outflanks the red.
Stand for a while and mumble modern incantations
As you ponder a little girl’s chalk marks on the warm walk.
Consider the curious treachery done to someone’s self-image,
Which surely was not so primitive, so grotesque.
But your romantic heart falters this evening:
You can’t conjure or decipher
The illegible syllables below.
Step over the artist’s work that taunts your analysis.
Convince yourself: There was nothing real there.
You may find a little park if you have good eyes
And a red-stone bridge
From whence you can watch the creek blacken.
You can smell flirtatious flowers in heavy gardens;
Laugh at the proud grasses with their purest greens;
Sigh when you glimpse the love-making of a pair of trees,
Tall, with feathery arms;
Make sweet compositions with the limes and lemons
That softly support the sky.
You can philosophize about spiraling branches…
Or you can watch out for dogs.
“Doleful the cries of a dying bird;
Good the last words of a dying man.”
Confucian Analects, II:8
* * * * * *
I was a stranger to beaches then.
That was the first wet sand between my toes.
It was cool. And nearby was the din
of rollers burying reluctant shadows.
I was too eager for evening’s drape,
too young to know, one dream is eternal;
resting on a driftwood’s swollen shape,
I watched the sun die till my eyes grew dull.
It might have been a dream then, or fancy,
that blue speck, like a moth about a light,
seeking refuge from the virescent sea,
circling in great, uneven arcs of fright.
The speck dropped now with the rising tide,
and diminished height revealed a greater size —
a huge bird with wings an arm-span wide,
turquoise, stately, ancient but still not wise.
His golden beak was silent and tight,
his talons locked in despairing frenzy —
for the globe of fire was out of sight —
and the bird flew over a dead-blood sea.
And like the sun the fowl was forced down
to just above the ocean’s bursting spray.
He struggled mightily round by round
to avoid the ague of this judgment day.
Long hours he fought, till the dew glistened
on the blades of beach grass. The moon beguiled
him into synthetic life and christened
with cosmic mystery a wondering child.
Never had I seen more painful life,
so that I asked, “Is it fear of Dying or of Death
makes you continue this fruitless strife?”
No answer came from him nor any breath.
He plummeted into the round waves,
and with the vertigo was gone the bird,
to rest this first time away from naves
in the clouds and ethereal sounds unheard.
I had forgotten that bird till now,
when dim memories flood a fevered eye,
not as a being who had learned how
to live, but as someone afraid to die.