Cornflower’s Gift

Hasn’t she heard this before?
And how many times
Out of how many tales
 from dusty waiting rooms,
   has it been?
Because - after all -
aren’t we all

But the fates had been kind to her
  in ways that easily showed
When they looked back,
  and how often they did look back
When she has passed by

Still, something I never told her
  - lord knows how much I did tell –
You see, under the sunset flash
  of those eyes,
    too deep and too green
  to bring my own timid pair
    to meet

I hadn’t yet known

And so she taught me,
  without knowing herself
Then again, how much
  of what we teach
  is ever just what we know?

What she taught me,
  (in any case) was simply this:
that beauty is not a virtue.
And that kindness is its own wisdom

Is this so strange?
Because beauty is the gift
  we are given,
    (or not)
  wrapped up on our birthday
To Be (or not)
And that is all.

And so, her virtue was not
  to be beautiful (which she was)
But to be Kind

Now do you see?

That all amid the daily petty tax,
The crush of humanity,
Wanting to bless itself
  with her favors

She sat there, a patient monk,
  and anointed all her tired pilgrims
    with a smile

And there, in that relentless beauty
 she shared with us
   her true virtue
Of being Kind

And so, there we met, in the dusty remnant
  of what little desert shade remained,
Where she graced this tired traveler with
  what she could offer:
The span of an hour,
  those earnest questions,
    that attentive ear,
And yes, her smile

Where in her patience,
  she heard my lament
    – and I do have one –
Which was just this:

As I have paused
  in this seeming careless stroll of life
To remember what I have been
Yes, that now-sweet citrus, jasmine
  and whatnot memory
    of the world still-new
And found it,
  farther in the distance
    than I had last remembered

And looking back
  the way they look back
    when she passes,
I have felt the sweet regret of poets
  of Byron and Sappho
Glimpsing my youth
  for the first time
    as a thing from afar.

It is a sorrowful thing, but a beautiful sorrow
A worthy chestnut for The Poet
To brood over and stir in the fire
  while searching for yet another portrait,
A warm and soothing phrase
  with which to comfort our human condition

But this sorrow is not my complaint
Not yet.

You see, I have sat by that fire,
  warmed myself over its low heat
  and poked among the coals
To discover this:

That when I grasped for words
  to stem or hallow this great injustice
    of frailty, of impermanence,
I could find none of my own

There is nothing I feel
  in the withering of limbs
That hasn’t been felt – and told -
  by hearts more beautiful
    more wise
     or more tragic
  than mine

Yes, it has all been felt and said before
And that, finally, is my lament

If – somehow – I were
  the first to find the weary end
  to this dusty road of age
    and spent youth
I do believe I could embrace it
  With joy

If – somehow – I were
  to discover some new truth
  in the travesty of sad decline
I know I would welcome it
  and gladly

I could live, if only to tell,
  to bring some brave new vision
Like an explorer in his chronicle,
  scratching out wonders
    of the cruel land
    from which he won’t return
Entrusting in a cairn of words
  the journal they will bury with him

I could do this, I swear I could

But the greater cruelty is this:
That I am no explorer.

That in my wearying, I merely tread
  the deep and narrow rut,
Steps all humanity has walked before me

No explorer - hardly; a mere one-way tourist
With postcards and stories
  no one hasn’t tired of

What words I have to tell this journey
  are only borrowed
From Byron, Shelley, Keats
And those who have been quoted
  - and forgotten -
  as many times as waves have lapped
    at the distant, unknowing shore

So this I give her, my lament.

And to this she gives her gift, her smile
To this ragged tangle of sorrows
  under the desert sky
Who, it seems,
  laments only that he has lived
While claiming to love life so dearly

And to this she gives her wisdom
And to this she asks:
Is the only joy of a kiss
  that you will be remembered for it?


[Based on a conversation I had with a young woman (whose playa name was Cornflower) stranded out at the airport at Burning Man one dusty afternoon. Apologies if this comes across as maudlin – especially from a mere 46-year old! It’s not meant to be. I’ve tried to fold in the retrospective irony of the conversation, along with the poetic inside joke, that (just maybe) this lament is in fact one that hasn’t been captured by Byron et al]

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