Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2008 Vol. 7 No. 1

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.