George Kalamaras


Turning Sixty-One, I Think of Tu Fu’s “About to Leave for Wu Gorge” and Sense the Cut of the World, as I Remember the Archaic Meaning of Gorge as “the Throat”

“I’m giving all this to Old Mister Ch’ing
expressing my unrestrained joy in song
I’ll be spending my last years downriver
with fisherman or woodcutter neighbors”
—Tu Fu              

Mountains and trees are easy to love,
but the fallen pine needles tonight
have no breeze to flux
their firming ground.
Cottonwoods comb what little wind
with gorgeous calm. Soon
their leaves will spot the river
in leopard robes. On this mountain,
bobcats and lynx yowl darkness
out of the cold cut
of night. Coy-dogs yoat
down the draw. The first month is the last
month to understand that what begins,
ends. Something starting out
is always closing. Something vital
is happening all the time, though as a child
that always seemed far
ahead. I reach my sixty-first year.
Last week I said it was like inhaling poison
ivy from a pile of burning leaves.
But that is not right. I can say nothing
quite right. Let me say it’s like midnight
rain. Let me say it’s like living over again.
Like sensing your possum body
and the tiny twitching lives clinging
inside. All the unsaid griefs
mapped in the marsupial mouth.
Like waking in the night
with a candle in your chest. All these years
I believed Tu Fu was in pain when he left
for Wu Gorge. Now, rereading his grief,
I see we are all in pain when we begin
to leave, and we begin to leave with each breath
even as breathing makes us stay.
I’m giving all this back to Meng Chiao
and Wang Wei. Li Po and Tu Fu. Each year.
Each sorrow. The poems
they somehow unknowingly helped me breathe.
I’ll be spending my last years
on the mountain, scouring
their words, moving a candle
in and out of my chest. An old man
with his wife. And a hound dog
or two in front of the Franklin stove.
Their calm breath will come
slow and steady and strong and gently
enter mine.

GEORGE KALAMARAS, former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016), is the author of fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011), and The Theory and Function of Mangoes, winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series (2000). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.