Road Trip

- 1954-

I could complain. I’ve done it before.
I could explain. I could say, for instance, that
I’m sick of being slaughtered in my life’s mountain passes,
covering my own long retreat,
the rear guard of my own brutal defeat—
dysentery and frostbite and snipers,
the mules freezing to death,
blizzards whipping the famished fires until they expire, 
the pathetic mosquito notes of my horn . . .
But, instead, for once, I’m keeping quiet, and maybe tomorrow
or maybe the day after or maybe the day after that
I’m just going to drive away down the coast
and not come back.
I haven’t told anyone, and I won’t.
I won’t dim with words the radiance of my gesture.
And besides, the ones who care have guessed already.
Looking at them looking at me, I know they know
when they turn their backs I’ll go.
The secrets I was planning to floor them with?
They’re already packed in my trunk, in straw,
in a reinforced casket.
The bitter but herbal and medicinal truths I concocted
to revive them with?
Tomorrow or the day after or the day after that,
on the volcano beaches fringed with black sand
and heaped with tangled beds of kelp,
by the obsidian tide pools that cradle the ribbed limpet
and the rockbound star,
I’ll scatter those truths to the sea breezes,
and float the secrets on the waters that the moon
reels in and plays out,
reels in and plays out,
with a little votive candle burning on their casket,
and then I’ll just be there, in the sunset’s coppery sheen,
in the dawn pearled by discrete, oblong, intimate clouds
that move without desire or motive.
Look at the clouds. Look how close they are.

More by Vijay Seshadri

Survivor

We hold it against you that you survived.
People better than you are dead,
but you still punch the clock.
Your body has wizened but has not bled

its substance out on the killing floor
or flatlined in intensive care
or vanished after school
or stepped off the ledge in despair.

Of all those you started with,
only you are still around;
only you have not been listed with 
the defeated and the drowned.

So how could you ever win our respect?--
you, who had the sense to duck,
you, with your strength almost intact
and all your good luck.

The Descent of Man

My failure to evolve has been causing me a lot of grief lately.
I can't walk on my knuckles through the acres of shattered glass in the streets.
I get lost in the arcades. My feet stink at the soirees.
The hills have been bulldozed from whence cameth my help.
The halfway houses where I met my kind dreaming of flickering lights in the woods 
are shuttered I don't know why. 
"Try," say the good people who bring me my food,
"to make your secret anguish your secret weapon. 
Otherwise, your immortality will be
an exhibit in a vitrine at the local museum, a picture in a book."
But I can't get the hang of it. The heavy instructions fall from my hands.
It takes so long for the human to become a human!
He affrights civilizations with his cry. At his approach,
the mountains retreat. A great wind crashes the garden party.
Manipulate singly neither his consummation nor his despair
but the two together like curettes
and peel back the pitch-black integuments 
to discover the penciled-in figure on the painted-over mural of time, 
sitting on the sketch of a boulder below
his aching sunrise, his moody, disappointed sunset.

Trailing Clouds of Glory

Even though I’m an immigrant,
the angel with the flaming sword seems fine with me.
He unhooks the velvet rope. He ushers me into the club.
Some activity in the mosh pit, a banquet here, a panhandler there,
a gray curtain drawn down over the infinitely curving lunette,
Jupiter in its crescent phase, huge,
a vista of a waterfall, with a rainbow in the spray,
a few desultory orgies, a billboard
of the snub-nosed electric car of the future—
the inside is exactly the same as the outside,
down to the m.c. in the yellow spats.
So why the angel with the flaming sword
bringing in the sheep and waving away the goats,
and the men with the binoculars,
elbows resting on the roll bars of jeeps,
peering into the desert? There is a border,
but it is not fixed, it wavers, it shimmies, it rises
and plunges into the unimaginable seventh dimension
before erupting in a field of Dakota corn. On the F train
to Manhattan yesterday, I sat across
from a family threesome Guatemalan by the look of them—
delicate and archaic and Mayan—
and obviously undocumented to the bone.
They didn’t seem anxious. The mother was
laughing and squabbling with the daughter
over a knockoff smart phone on which they were playing a
video game together. The boy, maybe three,
disdained their ruckus. I recognized the scowl on his face,
the retrospective, maskless rage of inception.
He looked just like my son when my son came out of his mother
after thirty hours of labor—the head squashed,
the lips swollen, the skin empurpled and hideous
with blood and afterbirth. Out of the inflamed tunnel
and into the cold room of harsh sounds.
He looked right at me with his bleared eyes.
He had a voice like Richard Burton’s.
He had an impressive command of the major English texts.
I will do such things, what they are yet I know not,
but they shall be the terrors of the earth, he said.
The child, he said, is father of the man.

Related Poems

It was a hard thing to undo this knot

It was a hard thing to undo this knot.
The rainbow shines, but only in the thought
Of him that looks. Yet not in that alone,
For who makes rainbows by invention?
And many standing round a waterfall
See one bow each, yet not the same to all,
But each a hand's breadth further than the next.
The sun on falling waters writes the text
Which yet is in the eye or in the thought.
It was a hard thing to undo this knot.