‘The Path Taken’

Photo by Thelma Bowles.

FIRE

Fire can be fine or fierce,

can keep you alive

when wind and cold and ice and snow

engulf you,

can kill you

when forests blaze,

when homes burn,

can incinerate remains

of what once was a person

into ashes in an urn,

life forever gone,

no longer

inconveniencing

anyone,

only truth—

what really was,

memories

of trials and triumphs

of loves and labors—

inconvenienced.

Yes, fire can be anything,

just like everything else,

just like earth, air and water,

just like love.

 

 

WHITE

In Asia, white is the color of death and mourning.

In Africa, white skins make black kids howl with fear.

In snowy mountains, white causes blindness.

In film, black and white is passé—or postmodern.

In politics and morality, black and white is simplistic.

In the U.S., the (bare) majority calls its pinkish skin white and a minority calls its tan skin black.

We describe villains as black hearted, put black hats on them,

And once upon a time drew laughs with faces painted black.

In Asia and Latin America, where white skin is classier than black, peasants tote parasols.

But white only looks

like the absence of color.

It is the sum of all colors.

 

 

THE PATH TAKEN

(With apologies to Robert Frost)

Three paths met me in a winter forest.

One had untrammeled snow,

soft and deep,

inviting for its purity

but repellent, too:

I’d have to break new trail.

One had the deeply cleaved tracks

of many skiers,

stuccoed over

with the steps of dogs

and the dents of snow shoes:

an easy trail to follow

but rough, irregular and round-tumbled.

The third had seen nary a snow shoe nor a dog. Nor even a coyote or a rabbit or a squirrel.

But a single skier or two had passed since the storm. The track was clear etched

in snow clean and white but no longer pristine.

I could follow this skier without haste or peril, no danger of getting lost,

no sweating to push aside mounded powder from the storm.

This trail went almost level,

up a bit and down a bit,

level again and then across small hills.

It’d be the perfect trail to take.

The rough trail of many passersby

went coasting down

a long and graceful hill

for an idyllic run in the woods.

The untrammeled path climbed a steep slope,

up and up to the limit of my vision,

hundreds of feet up,

thousands of feet long,

swooping into the storm-matted wilderness

where snow still clung to every frozen twig and branch and trunk and needle,

where the other side of the hill

was an unknown peril

and the way back down

hard and steep,

where the evergreens guarded a world

that was different,

or so it seemed.

A great poet thought

the road not taken

meant more than the other.

Not me, there’s always

more than one road

you leave behind

but only one you follow.

Despite all their virtues,

real and apparent,

I shunned both

the heavily skied path

and the trail just broken.

I chose instead

to break my own trail

on a steep hill leading

god knows where,

the hardest way of all,

a choice that had

never mattered

to anyone,

and still didn’t.

But it was my way.

 

 

SNOW

Is there anything more beautiful

than new fallen snow

lying pure, unsullied

on the brown ground

beneath the forest?

Is there anything uglier

than the black gooey mud

of the forest floor

when the snow melts?

 

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE WINTER

It is a small stream

in a small state.

But for

a small boy

of fourteen,

it seems to wind

forever through stark

winter woods,

stretching all the way

from lonely present

to a distant bliss

planted in a pleasant pasture

beyond the dark forest.

As he breathes,

the cold clings

in the air

like icicles.

It carves his lungs

like a scalpel.

It cauterizes wounds

so deep

he’d not known

they were bleeding

until they aren’t.

He skates

from there to there.

He slides

into the future

effortlessly.

He thinks,

he believes,

he knows

he can go

forever.

He swims

buoyed

on a salt-water bed.

He dreams

white on white,

sleet in a frozen fog.

He curls into

maternal embraces

of a ghost who was.

until she wasn’t.