Chicago Zen

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  • Now tidy your house,
    dust especially your living room
    and do not forget to name
    all your children.
    Watch your step. Sight may strike you
    blind in unexpected places.

    The traffic light turns orange
    on 57th and Dorchester, and you stumble,

    you fall into a vision of forest fires,
    enter a frothing Himalayan river,

    rapid, silent.

        On the 14th floor,
    Lake Michigan crawls and crawls

    in the window. Your thumbnail
    cracks a lobster louse on the windowpane

    from your daughter's hair
    and you drown, eyes open,

    towards the Indies, the antipodes.
    And you, always so perfectly sane.


    Now you know what you always knew:
    the country cannot be reached

    by jet. Nor by boat on jungle river,
    hashish behind the Monkey-temple,

    nor moonshot to the cratered Sea
    of Tranquillity, slim circus girls

    on a tightrope between tree and tree
    with white parasols, or the one

    and only blue guitar.

        Nor by any
    other means of transport,

    migrating with a clean valid passport,
    no, not even by transmigrating

    without any passport at all,
    but only by answering ordinary

    black telephones, questions
    walls and small children ask,

    and answering all calls of nature.


    Watch your step, watch it, I say,
    especially at the first high

        and the sudden low
    one near the end
    of the flight
    of stairs,

        and watch
    for the last
    step that's never there.

  • © A. K. Ramanujan