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Author of this poem:

Robert Rhodes (Yao Xin)
(August 30, 2010)


Because it often comes when we need it least,
death must be perversely clairvoyant.
Knowing all our plans and illusions, our secret women,
it is our teacher, undoing us with prophecy.
Like my 12-year-old daughter,
who sometimes sees angels filling the trees
or ghosts from the Civil War bivouacked in our yard:
No secrets hide from her.

Or like me, who can foretell the weather
with annoying accuracy, even in my poems,
conjuring storms like some Paiute medicine man
brandishing eagle feathers,
one for sun, the other for hail,
there, cresting the mountain, ticking with uranium.

* * *

The first woman I loved
once said of my writing,
even my careful and courtly love letters,
which I mailed her daily though
she lived only 10 miles away,
"we can always count on you
for a good weather report,"
implying not gift but cranky obsession,
reducing science to a decent guess.
But who really knows what the sky holds
or the number of hours each is allotted?

I predict that when death comes,
knowing exactly what it is doing,
it is sure to bring hail,
then snow, followed by a season
of quiet evening rain, watering
grasses and mountains without end,
infusing all remote valleys in a subtle blue light
and the scent of rhododendrons.

All of us again, the original of the species.

* * *

In 1968 in Darjeeling, an escaped Tibetan lama, Chatral Rinpoche,
told the Trappist poet Thomas Merton that when he died and reached "the palace,"
which he would do in less than a month by accidental electrocution,
"America and everything in it will seem like nothing."

A faulty fan cord and a wet terrazzo floor in Bangkok saw to that:
blue valleys and rhododendrons without end,
a Latin antiphonal left back in the Kentucky woods,
his interrupted place in the seasons, among the saints, marked by a ribbon.

Merton said of Chatral, leaving his soot-stained gompa on a hill of junipers,
and no doubt remembering his own secret woman and wishing she were there
to taste the leeward gales on glorious Kanchenjunga,
"That is the greatest man I ever met. He is my teacher."

We can be sure the trees were full of angels that day,
all of them neglecting the weather
or even what it might bring tomorrow:
Wind, the breath of mercy, with hail in the Himalayas.

Humming Bird

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