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 waiting? 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]