“I like writing about where I am.” —Billy Collins
I like writing about where I’m not, such as
my colleague’s cottage standing empty along a pebbly shore,
its insides—yes, knotty-pined, patina’d, I’m pretty sure—
enjoying the respite between peopled summer weekends
or the cushioned silence of winter’s drifts and desolation.
Indeed, for me a good vacation wouldn’t be complete
without the writing of a poem made possible
by the time I might otherwise have spent
cycling through Belarus or Montenegro
or perhaps observing profoundly to my spouse, once more,
and to everyone gathered at some seaside cheese market,
that the tiny countries of Europe are to U.S. states
what Cornish hens are to cuts of beef—
just me if I were doing my part
in re-embedding the ugly American.
It is also a lot of fun simply imagining
that advertised walking tour of Patagonia,
whose vast, steppe-like plains,
according to one encyclopedia,
since I wouldn’t know from experience,
terrace west toward the Andes,
their barren shingle slowly giving way
to porphyry and basalt (types of lava, FYI)
and an increase in annual rain and vegetation.
And since I’ve been told I should get away more,
especially now with the recent re-inflation
of a few of my coronary arteries,
here I don’t go to Slovenia, Guyana, Burkina Faso,
to Trinidad and Tobago, Tanzania,
to the Pacific islands once crushed by Portugal,
to all the homes of the Uralic family of languages—
Hungary, Finland, Estonia, places like that—
to Warsaw, again, thirty-five years later,
to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavík
for a hotdog smothered in remolaði.
But what I’m really hoping is that the Dalai Lama
will join me when I head for the Tibet that lies
just beyond the plateau of my porch,
which we’d pack up into on the bony back
of a ballpoint pen, with him highlighting old hangouts
among the rugged heights,
me taking copious notes on the fly,
though that of course wouldn’t mean we’d be any closer
to peace in the world or the end of exile
from all the places where I’m not.
—first published in Sycamore Review
D. R. James’s latest of ten collections are Mobius Trip and Flip Requiem (Dos Madres Press, 2021, 2020); his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is free, fun, and printable-for-folding at Origami Poems Project; and individual poems have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and journals. He lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. You can find his collections on Amazon.com.