Friday, May 23, 2014

Gary Snyder on an Empty Stomach

It’s been snowing for days, a rarity here 
in Portland, but the lecture hall is still packed
with students and old hippies. I get there early
and snag a seat in the second row.
He sits down two seats away from me
and asks the man between us,
“What are your thoughts regarding
the eating of horse meat?”
The man says that, being someone who spends
An inordinate amount of time around
the animals, his feelings on the subject
are complicated. They talk about
the willingness of various cultures
to devour their steeds. 
A woman with a long gray ponytail interrupts them
with a tattered first edition of Cold Mountain.
He carefully signs his name, along with some
Chinese characters. A young man
with turbaned in dreadlocks wants to talk
to him about living off the land. “Where’s your
camp?” Gary asks cordially. 
Then the president of the college 
gets behind the podium and delivers
a surprisingly lively story about growing up
in Petaluma, a town known for its chicken ranches.
One day he went to a book signing by a woman
who had written a history of the town called
Empty Shells: America’s Chicken City
and she turned out to be Gary’s sister, who introduced him
to her poet sibling, who now rises and stands behind
the podium at the bottom of the lecture hall
and begins to read his Cold Mountain translations,
with long tangents in between each poem.
Gnomic, face crazed with wrinkles,
resembling a wizened imp brushed on a sheet 
of crumpled rice paper, his voice lilting and merry
When it's over, I realize that I haven't eaten all day
and I cross the snowy parking lot
past the scraping of ice from windshields,
past steam rising from headlights
off to forage for something more substantial
than poetry to eat

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