Sharp tang of jet fuel
In the quick-clouding autumn air.
Redolent of adventure
And unconsidered action:
Black leafless birches and moonlit snow
Above sixty-six degrees;
Creaking saddles and boyhood dreams
Beneath the western pines;
The earth’s bones breaking through rusty dirt
On the dreaming plain.
Fragments of lost lives, long-departed versions of myself
Like the last suitcases on the carousel
Slowly circling, slowly circling
Never to be reclaimed.
At Gatwick Airport railway station, November 2019
What I tell myself was
The real me
Stood up once
And walked from the corral,
– boots dust-dulled, gloves stuffed
in his faded jeans’ back pocket –
Without a care in the world,
Touched his hat
To the old man on the porch,
Smiled at some secret
Held then and now forgotten
And was never seen again.
I wrote this poem back in 2008, in the midst of one of my regular identity crises. My last post, and the wonderful poem David shared with us today, prompted me to exhume it and publish it for the first time. I guess we’re all in search of the elusive ‘real me’ – after three more years’ writing, I feel I have a slightly clearer idea now. Can’t rule out the occasional wobble, though.
I’m wearing it
In a picture
Taken by a stranger
Far from home.
Beneath my feet
Washed gravel and smooth grey stones;
Behind me, a river that was snow
Less than an hour before
Falling in foam over stacked black rocks.
Dark pines. Distant peaks.
That summer, it was new,
The bargain canny student eyes
Spot at a hundred paces.
I’ve lived another lifetime
And many lives. Without the photograph
I’d never believe the farmhand’s hands
Muscles built in harvest fields
Sun-bleached hair and unworn, unlined face
Were ever mine.
And I’m still wearing it
(Time’s been that kind to me at least)
Afraid to let it go –
And with it, the smiling boy
Standing on the river’s edge
Still free to dip a toe or jump right in
Surrender to the roar and flow
Or wander on again.
In her beautiful song ‘This Shirt’, Mary-Chapin Carpenter recalls the events and memories caught up in ‘an old faded piece of cotton’. I have a shirt just like that; it’s 21 years old this summer, but I just can’t bring myself to throw it out. Partly, it’s because I’m thrilled at still being able to get into an item of clothing I had as a student; partly because it’s so darned comfortable; and partly because it appears in all my holiday photos – including the one I’ve described here, taken in Banff National Park, Canada, on a trip that changed my life.