Shooting Star

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1  In a concussion,
 the mind severs the pain:
 you don’t remember flying off a motorcycle,
 and landing face first
 in a cholla.

 But a woman stabbed in her apartment,
 by a prowler searching for
 money and drugs,
 will never forget her startled shriek
 die in her throat,
 blood soaking into the floor.

 The quotidian violence of the world
 is like a full moon rising over the Ortiz mountains;
 its pull is everywhere.
 But let me live a life of violent surprise
 and startled joy. I want to
 thrust a purple iris into your hand,
 give you a sudden embrace.

 I want to live as Wang Hsi-chih lived
 writing characters in gold ink on black silk—
 not to frame on a wall,
 but to live the splendor now.

2  Deprived of sleep, she hallucinated
 and, believing she had sold the genetic
 research on carp, signed a confession.
 Picking psilocybin mushrooms in the mountains

 of Veracruz, I hear tin cowbells
 in the slow rain, see men wasted on pulque
 sitting under palm trees. Is it
 so hard to see things as they truly are:

 a route marked in red ink on a map,
 the shadows of apricot leaves thrown
 in wind and sun on a wall? It is
 easy to imagine a desert full of agaves

 and golden barrel cactus, red earth, a red sun.
 But to truly live one must see things
 as they are, as they might become:
 a wrench is not a fingerprint

 on a stolen car, nor baling wire
 the undertow of the ocean. I may hallucinate,
 but see the men in drenched clothes
 as men who saw and saw and refuse to see.

3  Think of being a judge or architect
 or trombonist, and do not worry whether
 thinking so makes it so. I overhear
 two men talking in another room;

 I cannot transcribe the conversation
 word for word, but know if they are
 vexed or depressed, joyful or nostalgic.
 An elm leaf floats on a pond.

 Look, a child wants to be a cardiologist
 then a cartographer, but wanting so
 does not make it so. It is not
 a question of copying out the Heart Sutra

 in your own blood on an alabaster wall.
 It is not a question of grief or joy.
 But as a fetus grows and grows,
 as the autumn moon ripens the grapes,

 greed and cruelty and hunger for power
 ripen us, enable us to grieve, act,
 laugh, shriek, see, see it all as
 the water on which the elm leaf floats.

4  Write out the memories of your life
 in red-gold disappearing ink, so that it all
 dies, no lives. Each word you speak
 dies, no lives. Is it all
 at once in the mind? I once stepped
 on a sea urchin, used a needle to dig out
 the purple spines; blood soaked my hands.
 But one spine was left, and I carried
 it a thousand miles. I saw then
 the olive leaves die on the branch,
 saw dogs tear flesh off a sheep’s corpse.
 To live at all is to grieve;
 but, once, to have it all at once
 is to see a shooting star: shooting star
 shooting star.

© Wole Soyinka