Layover at the Airport in Detroit
A boy, maybe nine, is flinging the tethered ball
of each fist toward us sitting opposite.
Only to him we're not there. He's boxing
some invisible opponent in the air in a ring
that's materialized around him, leathery ropes
springing with the force of what he's naming:
Left-right, right-left, he whispers. His eyelids droop,
forehead tipped forward, eyes two taut mitts.
His knuckles flick straight out in tight
formation, five, then five too quick to call
and his toes continue their rhythmic bounce
on the blue pond of the carpet. I fake reading,
pretend not to notice as the made-up fist
of the boy's opponent hurled with true effect
clocks his jaw and a deep ripple from the center
takes the surface of his face. His head flips back,
skips against tough plastic, goes calm. One, two, three . . .
he begins to count. And I, like a referee, safe
on the shore of my book, count with him
just as we've all been counting inches of snow
since morning, waiting for the sky to break light,
to find we're once again home. Once I returned
from a trip to the faint music of wings
playing against the wall: a bird caught
in the chimney. It kept knocking along
the mortar concealing it, fraying, I pictured,
the tip of each oiled feather, crumbling
bit by bit the inner structure of the flue.
And that tiny bird lost to the light and itself
was the living metaphor for obsession,
the way it lodges deep in the sooty darkness
of the body. And that moment comes back
in this, the boy, myself watching him
play at fighting, revive deep in the count,
which is what keeps me mesmerized,
inadvertently gazing. The boy reaches up,
pulls the lip of his knit cap down, clips
the tension to the tip of his chin. And then
he's simply in it, head sheathed, imagination
flickering in the dark, on the wooly scrim.
At this point turning back will take longer than moving forward.
The Langtang Valley slips into the trees. Already we
have climbed beyond ideas of exhaustion.
A dirt path narrows to ten small steps.
We take the stairs.
Then even the crude endsa gash of what was stone
brought down to dust. A landslide.
The path snakes through pale rubble.
A faint line like an animal track through grass
hinting upward. I stop and look down the long run.
Boulders have been put to bed
in their own quick chips, under a dusty blanket,
settled in an even line
over sapling, fern, any green once clinging
to the mountain now covered
in a rush. Ahead, a hiker's red shirt flames and waves
as it bobs awayI sway,
am swayingin me a magnet drawn
to the valley's core, to the river's channel.
I cannot move from the bare site, on the edge
of this moment the body resists and invites.
All the water in me wants to ride the earth.