At eight p.m. we were called to tea.
It was the moon entering our throat that let us know. Cricket scratch in the night. Temple bells beneath it like a song.
Naturally, it began with a period of writing.
I asked every guest to jot down three things their spit resembled.
Someone said, shirt. Another, iron. A third, their girlfriend’s kimono.
Oh, how the dogs outside the teahouse whimpered in the dark and whined.
Concerning a journey into the Mandated Territory, papers were required just to leave Kyoto for the Gobi. Then by pack animal on to Istanbul.
Temple priests became notaries. We wandered from Zen garden to Zen garden fingering our poems, memorizing a phrase, hoping for the best.
On the third journey, we carried oats, salt, pepper, and strong black tea.
There were fire ants at every step, and I pitied the poor camels and their aching resolve.
It seems so long ago that I measured my spiritual growth by how far I could travel.
It seems I was dropping parts of myself into the dust animals I thought I had left behind.
That was when the great jaw of music clamped down around us.
There were dust mites in my beard. Swamp salt. A way of speaking in which words splayed themselves open to reveal something lonely and long.
Response to a clear night reminded me of weeks in Bangala or Ujiji.
Creeper vines seemed displaced when not in my chest but crawling up Leadwood or a Marula.
Among the daily periodicals, I favored The Times of London, though the idea of servitude concerned me.
I asked of the wind more than the wind could provide, even as the tiny movements of its mice enthralled me.
We all have something from which we’re hiding, I thought, some grinding in the gut we set out to forget.
When I read books about the Arctic, I chill it to the bone. When I break bread with it, it aches to invade me.
Nothing seemed to help but Brahms. Especially by firelight.
The third movement of the Third Symphony rises up from the freshly tilled earth into something whole in my throat.
I could return to Bangala or Ujiji. Even Brazzaville if I held the right song as a feral displacement of bones.
I could ask of it to heal me in the way only the hurt of living could possibly do.
Say the Great Barrier Reef awoke in our bones.
Say the night sky revolved in sockets of sleep.
I was in love with a lamp inside a gorgeous woman’s thigh.
Everywhere we touched there was light darkening light. Starlight in the rain-soaked leaves.
You think me obsessed with the Macedonian dead?
You cry out that my sword and shield are remnants of sickly speak?
There is a marvelous hallucination in the kerosene rag, fragile as a universe.
There are blossoms of noise chasing the echo beyond the wall.
Anywhere we step could be an argumentative storm.
I ate sycamore leaves and the bones of crows as one way to save the grace of my name.
Comforted by the efficacy of human kindness, we revealed all our tenterhooks.
There was only a solitary bee housed in the mouth.
There seemed nowhere else to go except deeper into our own blood.
Yes, I had read a book on indigenous sign language, but I could not find a sign for, Please forgive me my mouth.
Or had I meant, Please forgive me, my mouth?
The world can appear and disappear inside even the softest curling pearl of a comma.
What might it mean to survive a hospitable frontier?
How might we conjure and Conestoga and confidential our words?
Every afternoon I drove by the Primitive Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
And every day, I imagined a primordial Christianity somehow practiced centuries before the birth of Christ in the rainforests of the Congo. On the banks of the Euphrates. In a thatched hut in Borneo.
It seems unlikely that Alvaro and Gene are still alive.
I came away from both of their memorials knowing they would remain with me.
Some things are true and not true at the same time.
Everything I have said here is a lie.