Two Poems

August Kleinzahler

August Kleinzahler

Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 12

The cruise ship heads out of the harbour before dark
in the direction of Point Blanco and the sea beyond,
the din from the convent playground below having subsided
and the sickle moon making ready to take up its post
beside Venus and Jupiter, aligned this month,
and on display above the flood-lit cathedral.

They erupt like cicada whirr, like starlings
exploding from a tree at any sudden sharp sound,
dozens of three-year-olds in grey smocks
pouring from their captivity at end of day,
nuns chasing after them in their winged cornettes,
herding them the way border collies herd sheep.

The Mediterranean in four of your windows,
rose-coloured stucco, green shutters, pan tile, clothes-lines
trumpeting the Age of Cubism, as if for the first time.
You’re well set-up, better even than Point Grey Road:
English Bay, downtown lights, Grouse Mountain in that window
30 years ago. I turned up on your doorstep there, like this, as well.

And you on mine, troubled or jubilant or both.
It was a custom for Ming scholars to pronounce on friendship,
much given in their treatises to the notion of the gaoshi,
a virtuous and elevated Confucian sort of gent.
Whereas our discourse tends to run – well, think Hawaiian
coffee, but with a tilde over the n

Puerile? Low? A couple of worthless greybeards
catching sunset from the balcony, sipping a noble Tempranillo,
remembering: Are we not virtuous, as well?
For what, Li Zhiyan, is more virtuous than being in love,
carnal love, every lamp switched on in the Inner Kingdom,
tenderness radiating from every portal?

Does an Emperor in love freely choose to wage war,
or, unprompted, visit torment upon his own people?
On himself, perhaps, but that is another matter.
Friendship, too, is a kind of love, more lightly worn, enduring.
I read that in a book, and more than the one time.
Those who go on in such fashion might do better caulking or weeding.

You find yourself in the canals behind my forehead,
paddling. You do recall that particular mallard over there, yes?
And I in the high, rib-vaulted rooms your voice
rays out from itself, wherein I visit and take refreshment.
It has all turned out better than we probably dared hope
It frightens me, just this moment, to say so.

Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 66

The semester is winding down.
Mid-afternoon sun already low in the sky.
A week since the clatter of cleats at dusk.
The train rattles along behind first street,
sounding its horn,
to LA or east to San Bernadino.
The top of Mt Baldy hidden behind cloud.

TODAY’S LUNCH SPECIAL
Polenta-Stuffed Tomato & Pulled Pork

Students clustered at tables, TV overhead.
Chlamydia in bloom throughout the dining hall.
Professor Murchison, Emeritus,
far too old and too tall to be doing this,
and at such a late hour,
not long before closing,
bent over a text in the library stacks,
turning the pages slowly
but with some urgency.
                                       – I just needed to tell you,
Buffy, the women’s soccer coach,
tells her striker,
a lanky brunette who calls herself Suze,
how much
Coach pauses, caught up, it would seem,
by emotion, perhaps fear.
The tiny angel on her right shoulder
in an oversized football jersey,
school colours, navy blue and emerald green:
Not again, Buff,
You know what happened the last time.
And the tiny devil on her left,
orange leotards, black angora sweater vest:
Well?