“Not all those who wander are lost . . .” J.R.R.Tolkien
What would it be like to take a walk and not know where you’re going to end up? To just sling a pack across your shoulder and strike out southwest, no, let’s make that northeast, OK, just up and out? I don’t mean when you’re not exactly sure what route to take, or it’s a trail new to you and you don’t know how rough or easy – I mean you have no earthly idea where you’re even headed. Or how long you’ll be walking before you arrive. Or if you’ll arrive.
For someone like me, whose days are mostly lined out in fifteen-minute blocks, to simply walk in the moment is such an alien concept as to be terrifying. I’ve taken some pretty long walks over the years, fifty and a hundred miles some of them, but I always knew within a few hours when I expected to arrive at my final goal, and within a few square meters of where that goal was. Unfolding big maps and memorizing the landmarks, dissecting guidebooks (literaly, to rearrange the torn-out pages), scratching notes on little cards I’d carry with me along the way – they’re all metaphors for this planned-out predetermined regimented life of mine. Once in a while I might stray from the trail and wander the woods, but I always know to be home by dark. Yet by even the most wildly generous estimate my life is now two-thirds over. Do I remember where I’m headed?
Friday morning Linda and I are going to pick up my eighty-something parents in Winston-Salem and drive to the Greensboro Coliseum to attend Josh’s graduation from UNCG. Can I even list the obstacles that have made his path of the past ten years so uncertain? The ones he ner imagined he could succesfully negotiate but did, the ones that crushed him more than once, the ones he just had to hoist on his back and carry, sweating, all along the way? Many he and we too have doubted there even was a path, much less a way to travel it. But in the past few months there have been subtle signs, like seeing the first trout lily of spring, that this is real and it is going to happen. One of the sweetest images is that of my mother discovering, as she unpacked boxes from their recent move back home to North Carolina, the blazer she wore as a UNCG (then “Women’s College”) graduate sixty-three years ago, a “‘49″ pin still attached from one of her reunions.
Way to go, Josh! Your GrandMommy will be wearing that blazer, and I will be wearing admiration in my heart for your achievement. You toughed it out, and I’m proud of you. It’s the steep path that brings us to a high places.
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Which of us ever really knows exactly where we’re headed? What the heck am I talking about? Career, marriage, kids, grandson, church, yardwork, a vacation from time to time – enough there to fill any number of present hours and more than enough to fill any contemplations of the future. Is it only old guys and ascetics who take time out for a minute and ask, Where am I headed? For those like me who are too fidgety for a meditation practice, too cocky for a psychologist, too type A to spend time doing nothing instead of something, there’s a window to throw open and stick your head out when those questions tap on the pane. Poetry, of course. When I read a poem that pierces my id I don’t get all the answers, I discover the questions.
Thank you, Cathy Smith Bowers, for this poem and all it doesn’t say. I was reading Cathy’s book Like Shining from Shook Foil as part of a project to collect poems to be displayed at the NC Zoo. Among others, I want to include one by each of our NC Poet Laureates, back to James Larkin Pearson. I started at More Weight on page 119 and read the book backwards (I know, I know, they make a pill for that sort of thing). Hers is a poetry of arresting images, lightning, and jagged truth-saying. When I reached poem #1, perhaps from being filled with everything that had come before, all the questions clamored loud and I knew this is the one for the Zoo, and for me.
. . . . .
We love these old caves – Lascaux,
Altamira – and walk carefully
the way we always enter the past,
our hands bearing
the artificial light of this world.
We imagine those first hunters
crouched, conjuring luck,
carving into rock-swell
their simple art – whole herds of bison,
the haunches, the powerful heads, floating
orderless along the walls.
And some are climbing sky
as if they were stars, planets
obiting something they cannot see.
Centuries will pass before they
right themselves, their hooves
coming down onto the deep
wet floor of leaf-fall.
Remembering where it was
they were headed.
© 2010 Cathy Smith Bowers. from Like Shining from Shook Foil, Press 53. First appeared in Southern Poetry Review.
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Cathy Smith Bowers was named North Carolina Poet Laureate by Governer Bev Perdue in 2010. Press 53 (Winston-Salem, NC) published her new and collected poems, Like Shining from Shook Foil, that same year.