The Traveler Packs His Tent of Words
How quickly Yichang has become my home,
How dear the places where I cooked and slept.
But for us humans, all is to and from,
And nothing can be saved and nothing kept.
Just to sit down and eat we make a place
That is the center of a little world,
And merely the direction of one’s face
Becomes a kind of tie or anchor-hold.
A dream! To waken is to leave behind
The one we were before sleep’s little death:
It is the penalty of humankind,
The rising dark between our every breath.
But always, on a ship or on a plane,
I can put up the tent of poetry,
The flimsy fabric that keeps off the rain
Of loss, loneliness, and mortality.
27 replies on “Goodbye to China”
“And merely the direction of one’s face
Becomes a kind of tie or anchor-hold.”
Perfect, and perfectly true. Like a dot in our connect-the-dots traverse of our bit of given time.
“the tent of poetry” How powerful this seemingly lost art is in a culture which seems to be not. It lets us retain that “dark point” which is present “between our every breath.”
How wearisome this chronic terra-forming of the lost planet we call Self can be. Impermanance: the final absolute, motivating while mocking us to manifest a destiny. Always climbing up the slide it seems, away from the abyss, feet forever slipping out from under. How heroic, comedic and tragic all at once.
Thank you Professor Turner for this little verse on tent packing. You are so right; where impermanance is a “rising dark between our every breath,” art can be like a “rising dawn between our every fearful flench.” This verse is yet another seed, like the thousands you have sown in the souls of your students, that over time will leverage your mortality into a kind of trace immortality. Well done.
This has been my first stop in your blogosphere. However, I look forward to unpacking my own tent here for a while and anchoring my gaze your way again after a too-long, twenty-year hiatus. Be well.
This is an excellent poem, especially the second stanza and the lines ‘and merely the direction of one’s face/becomes a kind of tie or anchor-hold’ that’s ‘a phrase to feed the soul’ (as Heaney would say) but I wonder whether the final image of the flimsy tent doesnt undersell poetry a little, perhaps it is poetry itself that wakens us from the dream, helps us both to leave behind the one we were, and find a new birth in ‘the rising dark between our every breath’
Malcolm, you’re right, it does undersell poetry. But the underselling is intentional–poetry’s like the voice that Elijah hears in his cave of exile, still and small. But I think you know that, as a true poet. (I loved “wakens us from the dream”.)
Turner is one of my favorite arttiss. I once got to see originals from him at the tate in london.Don’t feel unconfident about showing your work though, even if it’s not as developed as you want. From my own experience I know it’s hard not to compare yourself to all the endless arttiss out there, but I feel that art becomes much more enjoyable and easier to make when you don’t think about how you or your end product will look standing next to someone else and instead focus on just making -something- that represents an honest effort of your current ability and accept that something has been made is, itself, an accomplishment.
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