Rivers and Mountains

from Rivers and Mountains (1966)

        On the secret map the assassins
	Cloistered, the Moon River was marked
	Near the eighteen peaks and the city
	Of humiliation and defeat—wan ending
	Of the trail among dry, papery leaves,
	Gray-brown quills like thoughts
	In the melodious but vast mass of today’s
	Writing through fields and swamps
	Marked, on the map, with little bunches of weeds.
	Certainly squirrels lived in the woods
	But devastation and dull sleep still
	Hung over the land, quelled
	The rioters turned out of sleep in the peace of prisons
	Singing on marble factory walls
	Deaf consolation of minor tunes that pack
	The air with heavy invisible rods
	Pent in some sand valley from
	Which only quiet walking ever instructs.
	The bird flew over and
	Sat—there was nothing else to do.
	Do not mistake its silence for pride or strength
	Or the waterfall for a harbor
	Full of light boats that is there
	Performing for thousands of people
	In clothes some with places to go
	Or games.  Sometimes over the pillar
	Of square stones its impact
	Makes a light print.
        So going around cities
	To get to other places you found
	It all on paper but the land
	Was made of paper processed
	To look like ferns, mud or other
	Whose sea unrolled its magic
	Distances and then rolled them up
	Its secret was only a pocket
	After all but some corners are darker
	Than these moonless nights spent as on a raft
	In the seclusion of a melody heard
	As though through trees
	And you can never ignite their touch
	Long but there were homes
	Flung far out near the asperities
	Of a sharp, rocky pinnacle
	And other collective places
	Shadows of vineyards whose wine
	Tasted of the forest floor
	Fisheries and oyster beds
	Tides under the pole
	Seminaries of instruction, public
	Places for electric light
	And the major tax assessment area
	Wrinkled on the plan
	Of election to the public office
	Sixty-two years old bath and breakfast
	The formal traffic, shadows
	zTo make it not worth joining
	After the ox had pulled away the cart.
        Your plan was to separate the enemy into two groups
	With the razor-edged mountains between.
	It worked well on paper
	But their camp had grown
	To be the mountains and the map
	Carefully peeled away and not torn
	Was the light, a tender but tough bark
	On everything.  Fortunately the war was solved
	In another way by isolating the two sections
	Of the evemy’s navy so that the mainland
	Warded away the big floating ships.
	Light bounced off the ends
	Of the small gray waves to tell
	Them in the observatory
	About the great drama that was being won
	To turn off the machinery
	And quietly move among the rustic landscape
	Scooping snow off the mountains rinsing
	The coarser ones that love had
	Slowly risen in the night to overflow
	Wetting pillow and petal
	Determined to place the letter
	On the unassassinated president’s desk
	So that a stamp could reproduce all this
	In detail, down to the last autumn leaf
	And the affliction of June ride
	Slowly out into the sun-blackened landscape.