--- for Billy Collins
We do not know where
we will find the next image,
inscribed on the back of a waterfall perhaps,
the textbook of some cloud,
a fedora turned by candles into makeshift chandelier,
an allegory of mirthful bougainvillea
sprawling uninvitedly over canyons of condominiums,
the table lamps of dreams encased in the terra incognita
of a thunderstorm, an itinerary prepared
by a mapmaker who's ingested hallucinogens.
The search begins, I am almost certain,
in some prehistoric orchestra where all the players,
with the exception of a barking dog in the oboe section,
are tall and gaunt, serious with a wisdom that is dark,
and motionless. Bereft of cigarettes,
they have nothing to smoke but Volcanoes.
They have heard rumors of a jazz band
touring in heaven, and if the silken garments of their skin
can be made to slide off for an afternoon,
they may investigate, sit in for
a musical jam discarnate,
a moveable feast of improvisation
in the glass-bottomed pleasure craft rowing across the sky.
It is a difficult idiom for prehistoric classicists
and they begin to reminisce fondly of the last
Great Ice Age and the long gravel driveways
of days gone by. Soon it is full-blown nostalgia:
'no one makes catapults like they used to.'
One longs for the old unities of Aristotle,
a beginning, middle, and end that seem
planned for escape from the start
--- near death, trapped on a ledge,
the climbing party discovers
the shelter of a cave
where an animal smeared on a wall
is found in a field guide key
to hieroglyphs, and reveals
the location of a secret
crawlspace that leads to safety.
There, secure in the cabin,
squiggles of smoke rising from the chimney,
we are free
to remember and imagine.