Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JOURNEY TO A KNOWN PLACE, by HAYDEN CARRUTH

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JOURNEY TO A KNOWN PLACE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Tundra, the distant marches. And wind veering, clatter of steely grasses
Subject(s): Nature; Snow

Tundra, the distant marches. And wind veering, clatter of steely grasses;
Steady tramontane pummeling eye and bone.
Between hummocks the ice-shell, glinting,
Splintered under our tread, slashing our shoes,
the papery leather
flaking, crumbling.
And the earth reached before us and behind us
And at our sides to the imperceivable horizon,
And direction wavered and slued in the barrenness.
Yet we followed without question, led without hesitation,
Our line, ophidian, dividing the wilderness,
the left hand
and the right hand.
We were the journeyers, we were the vexed and doubtful folk.
And this was the journey to the ships, and we knew only,
Marching in disorder,
Driven or staggered by dry frozen wind,
That at the end of our endless file,
On a day among many, indistinguishable,
Would lie the two ships of our destination,
the ship of the red sail,
the ship of the white sail,
And which vessel to choose was a matter of contention among us.
I heard the tanglement of voices, demanding, cajoling,
"The red sail!" "The white sail!" "The red . . ."
And the wind veered, bending the steely grasses.
At night the moon shed a shadowless whiteness,
And I wondered if this were the true color of lunacy,
Or if the slow fiery sun, glowing without warmth,
Resembled the day of our ultimate despair.
We spoke in the voice of our fathers,
Utterance laden with prophecy, clerical and severe.
Occasionally as we advanced into the vastness before us
Machines of the recent wars appeared by the way,
Shattered and desolate,
Swart with the gangrenous rust.
And the ginger snake made haste on the frozen land.
We encountered too the camps of the untidy aged,
a few sticks and a
tentcloth flapping;
Madwomen of exhaustion, loose-eyed, the leer of defeat,
The patriarch's paw-handed shame.
And still the column moved in continual clamor,
the voices shouting,
crying and contending,
And some were there who walked backwards in the heat of the argument,
Gesturing in antagonism.
And in the confusion of voices I sickened, but went onward.
Once in the hard light a blade shone, and the victim lay writhing.
I cried out, shortly, as in the voice of a woman, and passed on with the rest.
In the closeness of people was no warmth, for the wind flowed among us,
But a surge and stink of bodies like the huge discord of voices.
Vomit cringed in my throat.
And after a time, how long I do not remember,
Earth in its flatness ended in the flat sea
Where the two ships lay at their wharves,
others attending offshore.
And the sky reeled in hysteria, gulls screaming for a bit of meat;
Nor did our tumult diminish,
But men fought, often with women and children, cursing and struggling,
Often with one another in explosions of fury,
Claiming here historical necessity, claiming there the divine will,
and we had no unreadiness
of combative slogans.
And men dragged one another aboard the ships,
Others filling the beaches with confusion,
The absolutists cauled in the beast of fear;
For this was the mammoth conglomerate,
The throbbed gland and the wormy nerve, the voice-box quaking.
And when in our midst the two ships moved from their moorings,
Crowded with men and women and their children in multitude,
Some were pushed over the sides and into the sea,
and others leapt willingly.
In the gray sloping waters heads bobbed like rotten fruit,
And there came two more ships immediately.
I too was thrown this way and that in the throng
And shaken in my sickness like a leaf on a great tree with the autumn wind
And I drifted apart, stumbling and fitful,
And eddied away, swinging on windy voices, the terrible land behind me,
And so entered the sea.

Colder than land is the random sea, shriveling
Vein and sinew as the long tow took me, tumbled me,
Forward and down through the waves wheeling and plunging,

Ram-herds curled in their charge to the restless demon,
The bugling weather; and I forward and down in the chambers
Of amethystine light. Outward the deeper sluices, swaying,

Rocked me in the sea's exhaustless movements, heaving
In tidal energy, while coldness seeped almost sweetly
Into my heart and a numbness as of some grave and true

Dispassion altered my thoughts. Such was awareness
Of solitude, the calla silence abloom in decaying voices,
The ripe rot of the years. For alone I moved where serpentine

Sea-plants with flexive gestures swung in the waters,
Dancing the laziest sarabande in the primary darkness,
And downward the dimness of interiors opened before me.

Wavering fishes, the febrile schools, silver and gold,
Shone gloomily beyond my fingertips, which extended
Will-lessly in the waters, bending in the cadences of a

Dream. And the lobster flounced on the sand, mad
Claws dragging a wasp's body; the grampus plied there
In the unctuous waters, and the blowfish stuffed with fear;

I saw the manatee browsing, imperturbable, obese;
The halibut, twisted and anguish-eyed, fled from himself;
Ten thousand herring marched right oblique at unison's mute

Command. Down, down to the stiller mid-regions
Where giant sea-snails hung torpid in copulation
Half out of their shells, white flesh rolling, exposed

Obscenely in the slow coiling and cramping of a cruel
And monstrously deliberate ecstasy. And I looked away
In my boredom, but other snails hung also before my eyes

Everywhere, coupling identically, an abhorrent multitude;
Until they also rose at last above me. The far sea-floor
Appeared in the gloom, black pinnacles mounting. I saw the

Black roving shark, voracity finned and aprowl, impatient,
Powerful, rip-toothed for the living prey, there and now
Here, hunting, hunting; and the shapes of lost fantasies,

Every carnality, slithered and lurked on the primitive rock.
Massive eels upheaved and subsided. Blind mouths, vulviform,
Maneuvered in the lewd ingestive suck. Brilliant anemones

Took down their prey convulsively from the waters.
Still I moved downward, drifting unharmed in the carnage,
Down to the bottommost cave which I knew would contain

The great beast of the sea, primal, supreme. And the
Ultimate cold of the depths lapsed softly into my flesh,
Obscurely, like a casual cry in the night. And I came then

To the cave where the monster awaited me, many-armed
And dark, a slow aimless uncoiling of tentacles; and
Passively, for I knew no force of movement, I floated

Into the entanglement of an embrace that flowed around
Me like the toils of an immobilizing ether. Coldness
Consumed my brain. And the great beast's webbed grasp

Drew me close to his enormous baleful eyes, and he peered
Into me, so that I knew him, and from my revulsion, deep
And beyond fear, the salt of my eyes was borne to join the

Sea's. I slept, and awoke on a shore where the air was
Bright; and above me, extending to the height at which
Vision dissolves in aspiration, a mountain rose from the sea.

in its brightness
and warm
Bore my ascent now,
eddying and
For I toiled now,
Walked limping
(injured! so
In the hiding
might of the sea)
And lurched
on the rocks. But
Sinuous winds
urged me,
aided me,
Curling in supple rills
over my
mounting upward continually.
awake now,
thighs and
Back straining,
and the rich
humming with spice,
An eagle
became my companion,
the currents, broad wings
Guiding me
Upward on plume and freshet.
Rolled in the gullies,
the hot
Heavy with sweet dew,
close to my shoulders. And
I leaned
to my limp,

at last on my wound, up-Ward,
and the steeps
Above me
pronounced my eagerness.
Let it be said again. The tunes
Of the harp are in the strings and
The sequences thereof.
Hear these
Inward parts,
hear them shimmering.
The wholeness grows in itself, so,
Like the western sky
ascending at
intricate, aureate, and free.
And my guide returned,
on the wind,
Broad wings
as of my spirit now
to the structures
of air,
The rilled air
wings to
on the sudden blast,
lone as
I; we two moving,
skilled now in the
Profound and lovely
the sturdy
Look, look!
Pride and courage
(A bird's eyes)
but also
(honor's dint),
The inner appraisal
and submission,
Such as is given to animals
Hope of the want of it)
Less the seen power to fulfill need
Than the need itself.
So much must
One do in loneliness,
so much shyly
In freedom.
And in long afternoon
I rested,
drenched in air. And there
Heard the eagle's voice
above me
Where he alit
on a scarped tor,
At first laughter
bulged on my lips
For what I heard,
feeble and shrill;
But quickly I understood,
this was
The eagle's song,
and in it I heard
How he used his voice well and fully
In the ancient way,
and I heard also
How the beauty of it
came in this use,
How the song throve in the wind,
Fared outward among rocks and steeps,
Ventured and returned,
Eloquence of the mountain
Shrillness, tone of flint),
The whole selfhood of loftiness
And of rock
and of the liquorish air
And of all the names of that good place.
And in listening
my ears forgot
The woolly sweat clinging, ear-moss,
And I heard in the song,
that voice
Raised to the genius of mount and rock,
My being,
sentient and known. Onward
We went then until
toward nightfall
Hunger overcame me,
and the bird
saw my distress
And brought me an egg which was,
a work made in the manner of
And I broke it and
Ate the contents,
and that night I
slept peacefully
In the ocher moonlight,
dreaming of
Dry heads spiked smiling high on
An old bridge,
and in my dream
Heads sang
melodiously, all in a tune.
In the morning
I rose and resumed
My journey,
stepping on the winds,
The great bird
ever near me.
and I -- no more
the marauder.
When the sun stood
near the zenith
The eagle left me,
wheeling away in a
so that my eye
following him
Saw the sea outstretched, blue and
Blazed with the plumy grain,
Wide-marching corn;
and the ships,
Many, putting out from the mountain,
A wind-tossing
of bright pennants,
and off
remotely, on the far
Curve of earth,
land yellow and vert,
Yes, Lyonesse, Atlantis,
Gay Wyoming.
And when I looked again
To the eagle
he had risen far above me
and above the mountain,
on the vortical currents
the blinding depths of the sun.

Upward into the dome of brilliance, limping:
I, the tired climber, acquiring strength
From fatigue, weakness repaired in desire;
I, mounting, going where the stout clumps
Of wild wheat purply ripened, among rocks
Glowing like porcelain now, like jade, among
Silken grasses flowing in flame-like waves,
Among the increasing flowers, thickening trees,
The purslane bedded between the roots of oak,
Aspiring now in sun's cascading element,
Splendors upbranching, the palpitant leafing blood.

Sing, little voice,
Of the sun, lordly
And lovely, eloquent
Boy of the light
So meaning, so dumb
That at last it is
This one, the small one,
Our princeling who levels us,
Marries us, tumbles us,
Scarred or untouched,
In the crowded garden.
Sing, little voice,
The imperfect song
Of done and done,
Imperfect and wrong:
Right with the sun,
Our infant, lordly
And lovely, leveling
All. For the light
Alone does pierce
Armor and shell
And the knurling skull,
Giving done and done,
One and one,
To behold: each
In each. Inward
The light enters
Each darkness alike,
And in similitude
Is understanding.
Sing, little voice,
The imperfect song
Of gratefulness
As my shadow,
Handsomer, sings.

"Light, which moves at the rate of 186,000 miles
Per second, requires 100,000 years to cross
From one rim of our galaxy to the other rim."
Tell me, I murmured, tell me what does it mean
At this way station? For God's sake, interpret
Me this, I mumbled. "The light-sensitive elements
Of the human retina number 1,000 billions. . ."
Nailed to the raft of sense, swept by the magnitudes.

Upward into the dome of brilliance, limping:
And the gemlike rock glowed under the mosses,
And ferns splayed like cool flames, and trees
Lifted, arching and strained to the august sky;
And there were open places where I found
Other journeyers, resting or climbing, strangers,
Sweet eyes once cracked in the torturing cold;
And some few I saw known to me, and one was
A woman I had once married, now like a soft ash
Inly aglow, rippling the violet of mind's smile
Like the concentricities of a woodland pool.
And our hands' touching sang the small cockcrow
As for night's ending, across the distant fields.
So through the alert forests we advanced
Together, by streams that leapt faultlessly
To the far nether sea, crystalline, syllabled,
By savor's herbs, spilt flowers on the way,
The vines and berry trees bright with their meat,
Each blossom in separate need conjointly gendered,
Simple and brave, shaped by a seasonal sap
To the forms of earth in its sovereign histories;
And so we two, there in a private place
Of hot endeavor, as root and bud and bloom,
The bronze sky ringing above, the wild wheat singing.

Proven never,
Being riven
By a steely word
That seals and deafens,
Till, until
One is but one
And all affrighted,
Lone, alone --
Still no treason,
Time or distance,
Quells the quick
Supposing faith;
Will and reason
Drive the breath:
You, you, you.

And I had seen the scarred small breast
Of the hurt woman, imperfect, wounded, wakening
In my body the honeyed and flowing anguish
Of her being weighed on my lameness; but it
Was love. And afterward we went on,
Climbing together into the fire, the flames
Seeming to touch us, flittering on our arms,
Purifying us, so that the shimmer and gleam
Moved between us as the force of our desire,
Altering in our humility beyond desire
To acceptance, each of himself in the other truly;
And of these still other ones, these multitudes
Converging now as the mount narrowed,
Moving upward together in need as food of
The earth, up in the heat of the marrying sun.

Light is the force that alone resists the wind,
Stays, unwavering, though the wind sweeps by.

And often our hands reached out in guidance
Or assistance, for scarcely a one was unwounded
And eyes I saw ill placed in the mask of shock.

Yes, tongues had been torn out, backs
Had been furrowed with lashes, many an eye
Blinded, many a limb broken, and the
Able of body walked with a shackling gait.
In truth this journey was the painfulest,
Gravest; and in this we knew one another,
Losing for a rare time the futility of words.

To stake it all,
The need and the response,
The point from which
Intelligence went forth,
The failing quality
Of aspiration
In which one found
One's strength, the walled
Terrors in which one
Found love, and finally
The indifferent space
Everywhere dividing
Individual worth,
To stake it all
On a flawed, soft,
Abused and unreliable,
Imperfect word:

And up, far, far, the astral banks, and then?
Nowhereness broods there? Contemplates this hatch?
Dictum, denial: either way absurd.
And that's the horror, that too in part of the song.

To the last woodland ridge, to the summit we came,
Where the forest parted, withdrew from the broadening road,
And where in the humming sun the journeyers gathered,
Groups walking easily now, the highways converging;
And when with a murmur and extending of arms we came
To the place where the city of gold lay visible,
We paused briefly to marvel, and passed on to the
Avenues continuing among scenes of consummate
Splendor, arches and arabesque all agleam in the
Sun, the golden and emerald tiles, and the folk there,
Both the fair-born ones of the city and those others,
Our immigrant people, greeting us as we moved
On wondering feet onward, still toward the center.
And we came at last to the park where the city opened
Round an emblazoned zone and the light, liquescent
And shimmering, seemed a golden-roseate intensity,
Seemed as a fountain ascending, whose returning flow
Made the sunfire's cascade, swirling and vaporing.
And in the midst was the great wheel rising, turning
In music and light, where the people rode in their
Separateness all together, ascending and equally
Descending in the light, instructed at each place
Of the wheel's endlessness. And there the multitude
Assembled, crowding in the unity of concord, all
Estates and relations of being but chiefly the
Female and the male together, joined in desire's
Known imperfectibilities, the great loves with the less,
Always unequal, able and unable making
Each of his opposite anguish the cause of love,
And this was a real urbanity. Holiday, holiday,
The sun and the wheel, and my companion and I
Hand in hand by the edge of the park; until
We also stepped forward, identities, we with the
Others, the gimp and the aging lady, two notes
Of the flute. And for once unambiguously
All was turned to account; and I saw how the
Bitter bitter shame, terror, quick retaliation
And lust, yes, even ignorance that is called evil,
The enormous relative compassment complete,
The rebellion too, the heart's grand assertions
Against the ruins of broken works and days,
All fact, all dream -- how from this we make,
Each in his only ascertainable center,
The world of realization, the suffered reality,
Through which comes understanding; or, if not
Understanding, at least the person fleshed
Sufficiently, sufficiently in love's fragments
That gleam in the rubbish of cruelty and wrong:
To know what it is to receive what one has given,
As in a kiss, to bear and to be born,
To see the earth beneath the heron's eye.

Anything ends
In its beginning,
The circles turning
Slowly, so slowly,
Quern of the beat
Of the downrunning heart.
The sunlight fell like diamonds
But did not slacken
Remembrance's forewarning
Of cold and dark to come,
The journey retaken
Without end,
Without end.

And so purity was compounded of impurity.
My spirit rose, a leaf above the fire.
In poverty of means was the authentic end.
Ah, the rack's song. Who shall turn the wheel?
Who shall give up his bones to be parted?
Our guilt contorts the images of our mercy,
But is not our humility more than we thought,
More than a last refuge of the aggressive mind?
And in our knowing, even unto all unknowing,
We are, we are, spite of a foolish end
Under your ancient brightness, O grave stars!
From this we speak and our speech is love,
Without witness, simply and for the day.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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