stuck on its top, spinning its tires,
a pink VW Beetle or something resembling
a turtle. But it’s cute so we keep it.
Soon it gets the hang of things and starts
to travel—first on its pudgy belly, then
on its beefy knees, until dangerously,
stubbornly, it wobbles along on two legs.
After that there’s no holding it back—
think of the jazz it is able to dance
and the odd machinery it learns to drive:
unicycles, bathyspheres, spaceships,
as well as people. That really
is our main system of forward progression,
like a lemming or salmon—Toot, toot,
hey buddy, you’re blocking the road!—
climbing over the bodies of all the folks
around us, until one can imagine a humungous
Himalaya of human flesh; and what a struggle
to this journey—a foot in this one’s face,
one woman dragging herself up by the long
black tresses of another, an old man slamming
his cudgel against another old man’s
bald spot, thousands scrambling to the top,
as millions of others sink within. And even
the losers, those near the bottom, keep
stamping on the rascals beneath them, just
to make sure they stay put. One wonders
at the fellow at the very bottom—saint or jerk,
cripple or coward—but perhaps there is no
absolute bottom, just as one can’t imagine
an actual top, only fog at either end
with constant motion inbetween, everybody
frantic and all getting faster till one by one
they stumble from the crowd and each person’s
private death greets him with a peck on the cheek.
But even then they keep traveling as death
climbs aboard each one, straddles each one
like a man paddling a canoe up a river and they
push off toward that place which nobody conquers.
Willows dabble their green hands in the water.
What memories alternate with what regrets,
what wistful hankerings, as the paddle repeats
its calming stroke and a loon warbles its cry?