Best of the Net 2009  

Coleridge in Scotland, Walking

Rain-lashed, shoes in tatters, leg seized by a scorching
he won't ever escape, he plods on, stumbling through furze
& scree, past potato fields white-flared with blossoms,
the perfect ribboning of countless sheep. O Christ,

it maddens me that I am not a painter. In a week, he'll blitz
through 200 miles, fueled by stale cake & cheese, thoughts
of his limping, rattletrapped marriage & wide berths from sleep
given the night-shrieks opium churns. If pleasure, he writes,

draws the Soul along like a Flight of Starlings in a Wind,
this is hardly that, although there's always some fleck of rapture
whenever he's gripped by cloud or heath, topsy-turvy
mountain silhouettes, birch bark like a rhino rolled in mud,

each leaf he invests with awe. How madly, how purposeless,
the butterfly let loose pushes the air under it
, he notes, then tramps
for days through fern-thick scruff, released from the noose
that was Wordsworth & Dorothy yabbering on, fretting

over flea-crammed beds: Would that I never met them!
he scrawls in his notebook when they at last part ways, pausing
from pitching stones at a lichen-splotched stump, for hours
attuned to only that, the same way, 30 years on, still trussed

to his wife & the drug called his strong ale, a few months before
his heart stops, he'll find himself at a dinner in a claret-haze,
studying friends on a madcap whim flinging crockery against walls,
letting shards rain into his hair until everyone stops to watch him,

plaster-dusted, fork in hand, aiming for a glass perched on a tumbler,
radiating interest, honed to this single task. The thing is, torn
between telling & simply plodding on, I could cram more
into lines about Coleridge striding towards waterfalls

& gooseberry trees without ever conjuring the back roads I prowl
some days, unsure what I'm driving towards, or years back, lost
in a town I couldn't stop calling home, waking night after night
on a beach of rocks to tumbling slate-colored waves. In that

aimless staggering, or, just now, staving off you-name-it
through a rerun of Cops where a man writhes on asphalt, wide-eyed,
cuffed, wonder isn't a word I'd use, but why hack out a shape
to my run-of-the-mill froth of grief & mistakes which keep me

from standing still? Instead of some riff on loss you've heard before,
I'll say here, through a sea of saying, whatever else I can:
one day's thermal-winging, dirt-colored hawk, those clattering
surf-drenched stones. Where the path is possible, there I go,

Coleridge once scribbled to the woman he loved, describing
the gamble of hurling himself down rocks & crags in darkness,
not caring what might lie beneath as he bucks his way frenzied
from boulder to boulder, chest puckered with heat-bumps,

a palsy-like shuddering through his limbs. Thus I circle back
to red-herring particulars culled from another life. September, 1803:
morning of whiskey, sugar, raw eggs. Body a litany of ache--
head, face, ear, tooth--under the purplish hillside sinking down

into ragged Burnt-Land
. Although even as he reads this phrase,
he knows it's time to thrash on, since already this seems
like inscribing the earth with his own might-have-been
when today all he wants is swaths of this unfamiliar world

unharnessed from regret. Peat-moss squelch, river skittering
with light. Or something like each snaring, bearable thing
he doodles in his notebook, unable to break his now-quickened pace,
even when words, for a moment, fail--glyph of bough-curve,

road-swerve, a hook-like bay, ridge in a helter-skelter plunge.

- Matt Donovan (from Blackbird)