Not ready for stars

National Poetry Month, Day 10  //  Many of the poems that draw me are about journey rather than destination – about the way I move through life, or intend to move, rather than where I hope to arrive. I’ve always been a wanderer, finding home in the journey and relishing Tolkien’s notion that “Not all who wander are lost.” As I grow in my appreciation of the shortness of life – in November I completed my allotted seventy years, hoping that strength will take me to eighty or more (Ps. 90:12) – I grow less concerned with what my life will mean in the end, with what legacy may testify to my having lived. No monument for me, thank you, to mark what I’ve done. Travel lightly and leave no trace of your passing, the Native Americans counseled.

Many years ago, when I was working as production manager at the University of Missouri Press, I discovered the poet C.G. Hanzlicek. I designed his book Stars, for which he had just won he Press’s 1977 Devin Award for Poetry, and which has ever since held a place in my library. One of his poems especially comes to mind when I think about my life’s journey.

“Stars,” by C.G. Hanzlicek (b. 1942)

It’s been estimated that atoms
in your body have been through
several stars – that they were
ejected many times as gas from
exploding stars.

—Jeremiah P. Ostriker

Seattle
Chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish
Said when a white man dies
He no longer loves the earth
He wanders among the stars
Shedding his life
Skin by skin
Until there’s nothing but a shiver
Of light

But when a red man leaves the earth
He never forgets rivers
White with a new year
Deer dancing through scrub oaks
The hawk
Shaking the sky with its shriek
And the man often drifts down
To breathe the air of the living
To touch stone
Touch water

Crouched at the firepit
Of an abandoned camp in the hills
With my thumb I polished
The obsidian knife I’d found
Something moved through the pines
Almost like wind
It touched my hair
Then ran downhill to drink at the stream
If it wasn’t the spirit of a man
It was at least a spirit of silence
We have lost

I want to move
Quietly on this earth
Touching stones
The trunks of trees
The moons on ponds at night
Touching hair and touching flesh
Almost like the wind
And when I die
I won’t be ready for the stars
They’ll have to bury me

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