(One) Gnu

The wizard loves. The wizard is walking in the woods in the wind. He’s blown down in the mud. He’s cold. He’s wet. It’s raining. Then the wizard stands again, and flies against the wind. It hurts, and he’s open, and he’s powerful. I have a hole where my mouth should be, and in my nose, two, and my eyes always have water on them. They are the color of dirt. So is my hair. I can easily do what I once was able to dream. I seem to be different. My friends tell me I’m fortunate, but it hurts. There are too many strangers who ridicule me for what I seem. It’s easier if I forget them. I want to be ecstatic sometimes. I love the birds, and I dream. I imagine the unreal real. I feel what imagination really is. He’s a tree, without reason. He just grows. More sour apples than can be eaten hang to drop. He moves a little in the wind. He sees the birds and knows. They alight on him. Someday he’ll make shadows, and then he’ll laugh, but the future breathes tomorrow for only a day. The man drives his truck up to the vending machines every day at the same time, and opens the doors. He easily fills the machines with candy. He’s a real nice guy. He cheerfully asks anyone how things are going. You really have to try a grin, and buy a candy bar for that man. He has an orange face, but nobody notices. There’s other laughter besides the laughter of joy. There’s the joke, the insane laughter, and the ridiculous. We pass a gang of boys on the street curb. They’re laughing. The people who once tried but have given up are laughing. They don’t care anymore. They’ve twisted themselves inside their stony selves. Their pain tickles, finally. We pass an apple tree. It’s silent. We laugh at all the people laughing at it. He tries to grow, and he’s not ashamed, but just can’t explain. If he could, then he wouldn’t be the same. No one would laugh. The city is the stony hell inside. He is not of the city. He can’t explain. He tries to show he’s not deformed. He’s not deformed. It all comes back when two young girls start giggling as he walks by them. Together, they think he’s outrageous, and they’re brave enough to laugh. They ask him questions, and laugh at not matter what he says. He walks on. He looks back once. They break out laughing again. He doesn’t look back again. He’ll always remember them letting the whirlwind laugh out their mouths, and one saying things strong and vicious. He remembers what she said. He doesn’t want to remember. He just won’t walk downtown again. It’s easier when it’s all forgotten. I never could before. I couldn’t even try. I couldn’t try to move past the wet thickness of that shadow. It hid something from myself, something human, something as real as hope that’s been run nearly dead into walls I built around myself, and that can never be severed from me. The realization makes a pain that gapes a hole in my heart. Sometimes I can only cry. I couldn’t say it. Then I was only joking, using the situation to remind you of my need. I hoped I’d see you again, but not only to convince myself that imagination changes things. It’s not my imagination that stops me. It’s not my imagination that makes the need. I hoped I’d see you again, but not for the excuse I think you expect, not for the joke, and not because I have nowhere else to go. I hoped I’d see you because I’ve come to expect a smile from you. It’s not just the smile, and not just that you have long hair, that you’re beautiful. I need what’s on your side of me, because I love you. I hoped to show I have the strength to open excited and free to love everyone with you. It’s raining. The spirit of the world and the spirit of our bodies are one. The old miner, the guardian of the first threshold, grins his thick lips over brown tobacco teeth. He nods to the back of the boy entering the deeper cave. The stone has become a spirit, from which was born a bird, arrayed in various colors, and being made white, it’s flying in his hand. O Thrice Great Hermes! you KNEW the mystery of his gift, which, once dreamed, imagination can make real to hold, to hold from soul to soul. The miner is the master of this mystery. The imagination can make the stone round. The mystery is with me. The poet sits in his room, the room he sleeps in. He has music to listen to, and a small light to make a warm place in the darkness. The poet follows himself going into places he’s never dreamed before. He goes through those feelings to words, and he makes the words to love, and he has a hand that writes it down. He is alone. There is a strength in his solitude, a strength that must be there to tell him he’s really not alone, no— never. There’s a happiness in this communion. The poet can fly; the poet can cry. In the city, he wanders about the zoo. He stops to look for the gnu. “Here’s the gnu,” a father says. The father points into the enclosure and says, “The White Gnu,” even though the sign he saw said clearly THE WHITE BEARDED GNU. “The White Gnu,” he says again and walks away. His young daughter, to whom these words were turned, pauses behind him, looking into the enclosure for the gnu that wasn’t there. Many big seagulls rest in the enclosure. At once, they fill the air, and fly out towards the ocean into the wind. The sun drops their moving shadows on the zoo. Their sudden noisy flapping hovers. Sounds of laughter hang happiness in the wind. Everyone thinks it’s the birds.

30 April 1971