Walking Around

Yo paseo con calma, con ojos, con zapatos,
con furia, con olvido
…                                —Neruda

When I get to the corner
the street lamp’s still broken,
black wires hanging up there
like the entrails of a dead star.
When I wet my finger
and hold it up—the forecast is
for dust, more dust any day
you choose. . . .
…                               I get out early,
arm in arm with the shadows
before they dissolve
into thin air, heat
ascending the bluffs.
If there’s a sliver or two
of cloud above the horizon,
above the inexhaustible
solitude I sometimes share
with the sea,
it’s just a little punctuation
on the blank sheet of the blue,
some starred complaints
on the wind’s inscrutable list,
a little nagging
from our fate that’s
not about to change.

Some mornings
a heavy fog pulls
on my shoulder bones,
my hamstrings singing
out each time I bend
to admire the day lilies.
It’s no use wondering
where the time has gone,
or the lilacs, the loquats,
the yellow blossoms
on the tipuana trees—
as far as metaphysics
are concerned, there’s only
that itch at the back of my neck,
the spindrift tossed up
from the rocks,
the backdrop of what
still looks like oblivion
from here.
…                     Downtown,
restaurants crowd the sidewalks
with little iron tables and chairs
for tourists to be seen eating
their salads.  It’s difficult
not to bump my knee
or slip to the curb as I pass,
my brain still trying
to account for the old
store fronts—the news agent’s
selling El Productos, Dutch Masters,
the used book shop,
its musty caverns,
drilling light through shafts
of dust and time . . .
on the corners, Silverwoods,
Woolworths, Montgomery Wards. . . .

Once I thought
I saw my father at the
cracked Formica counter
in that tiny coffee shop
on Carrillo, and I still see
my mother standing
on State Street, in front
of the displays at Lou Rose,
window shopping for nothing
she can afford. . . .
                                   The air’s
stretched thin from the silted
windowsills to the shore,
to some point on the horizon
where I just can’t see
any further. . . .
…                               I want to shout
to the bus driver, the panhandlers,
the passersby, STOP,
I’ve had it up to here
with everyone forgetting!
But I stroll on sensibly
down the street
like a retired building inspector
still looking for cracks
and water stains—
recalling what I can
before the bits and pieces
of memory’s ladder crumble
and the light burns up
with the useless supplications
of the leaves, the dust of space,
the spokes of the stars,
the near or far intervals
of silence everything slips
away to. . . .
                         I’ll get there
when I get there—and if
there’s a moment to spare,
who knows where it is?
I’m just shuffling along
in my old coat and shoes,
nothing in my arms,
not even the fanfare of birds,
all which make me
finally even with the sky. . . .


El Cielo

…                Adentro de la luz
…                circula tu alma
                aminorandose hasta que se extingue
…                              —Neruda

I have an understanding with the sky—
…          each day I attend
the capitulation of the waves back into the blue
…          and don’t complain
too much . . . we look less and less like ourselves,
…          though it’s still us inside.
Youth gone, the knotted string of middle age, all up
…          in the air like laundry
in a breeze, until we barely see ourselves disappearing
…          in the swirl of dusk,
drifting toward a distant small town. . . .  But on the way
          there, we’re happy
to find a stool at the counter in a roadside café, drink
…          a tepid cup of decaf,
a wink of cream added for what passes for luxury these days.
…          The closer I come to the sky,
the more I want to believe this is not it—that I’m still headed
…          somewhere, anywhere at all. . . .
…                                *
In the park overlooking the sea, I sit beneath
…          coral and eucalyptus trees
and breathe deeply alongside the crows—it’s free,
…          and the company, though ruffled,
is reliable, all of us bemused, looking into the aimless sky. . . .
          I set my pack down
and pour a cup of pinot noir, first sip as balanced as
…          the blue evening humming
out there above the island’s edge.  A second taste
…          almost transcendental
as I send my saludos to the clouds where I hedge my bets
…          that it’s just the evening mist
shifting around up there, and not angels who’ve overlooked
…          their assignments here.
Tomorrow, I’ll take another stab at making some sense
…           of this . . . but in any event,
caramba, it was fun as it flashed by.  Might as well
…          put more red poppies
and geraniums on the balcony and cheer the air up a bit.
…                                *
No fall, no winter—shirtsleeves whipped in a Santa Ana
          10 months out of 12
it seems, and like the trees, I’m a bit unsteady, exposed
…          here on the cliff
in one of my dozen Hawaiian shirts picked up at the thrifts—
…          all cotton, old school
surfers on long boards at Diamond Head, sail fish in the air,
…          hibiscus flowers and coconut palms
swaying in that 60’s light still fading at the Pacific’s edge. . . .

…          Hernandez warned us
about the tree of impossible things, and though I believed him,
…          I climbed branch by branch
as high as I could.  I read philosophy in my 20s and understood
…          that I didn’t have much to say,
but wanted to say it anyway. . . .  And though I’ve never imagined
…          my heart as a frozen orange,
or a burning pomegranate there still might be something
…          to the soul layered like an onion,
that dust cloud sifting down. . . .  I’m out here working
…          every day to unpuzzle
the mockingbird’s oratorio to life, the coplas of spice finches
          congratulating each other
at the feeder as they hang on in the off shore breeze . . .
          I’ve found 100 ways to fear
death as much as anyone, and have hidden them in the silk trees,
          wrapped them in the froth
of breakers along the shore before the dark catches me out
…          in the damp air, that,
nevertheless saves me from the stars, from our imminent
…          relapse into dust
glimmering above the sea, where not one prayer has kept
…          those birds in the air.
…                                      *
…                          (for good Pablo)
The cypress take their shapes from the wind, grow old,
          and like our minds
sketch a poetics of emptiness.  Yet in the leaf-green
…          and lacy shade
of pepper trees, I think of you maestro, compañero,
…          and call you back
from the solar mists, from the winds blowing toward
…          the empty rooms
of eternity.  Step out from the ribs and arm bones of your odes,
           say death means less than
the undertow murmuring in the tide, singing for nothing
…          in our blood.  Give us a grito
or two for the resistance, to chase the politicos over the cliff,
…          a song to repair the back ache,
the stitch in the side, numbness in the leg. Give us a trail
….         of sea foam, crusts of sunlight
leading beyond the white caps that reveal the irony
…          of every wasted appeal.
No one is fooled when we lose one comrade after another,
          when every breeze
miscalculates the sorrow of abandoned sidewalks,
…          the death of rose canes.
If we praise our shoes, or the two tomato plants
…          we raise each spring,
if we proclaim a dishtowel the happy flag of our republic,
…          even these scraps
of joy blow away through the blue leaves of evening
…          as the light goes out
across the shore, inside of which the soul spins
…          down and is gone . . .
the air-sealed kiss of salt in spindrift lost above the sea.


Christopher Buckley is professor emeritus of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. He has published 20 books of poetry, including Star Journal: Selected Poems, and several chapbooks and limited editions. Buckley is the author of the memoirs Cruising State, Sleep Walk, and Holy Days of Obligation. He is the editor of six anthologies of contemporary poetry as well as critical books on Philip Levine, Larry Levis, and Luis Omar Salinas. Buckley is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, two National Endowment for the Arts Grants, a Fulbright Award, four Pushcart prizes, and two awards from the Poetry Society of America among other awards. These two poems appear in his collection Spanish Notebook, published by Shabda Press 2017.