About Rendering Lao Tzu, Verse 80 from Dim Memory
by Camplight beside a Sierra Lake, with My Son


Given the grace of the Feng-English version,
why try again
in my generation?  Yet the Way is one
and many still, issues to chaos
to be reborn, and so works in me
unwilled and appreciated
this artifact of spontaneous
               a slight political recouchment
of the Old Boy's verse, in terms
grown oh so slowly clearer without
me as within, while the boy 16
on the Tao in Blakney's florid translation
as the witch-hunts waned, the New Left woke

became 41, watching what became of that motion
strive to re-collect its terms and vision
in a hard time.


It was infection on first contact,
I was a cheap convert, the same guy
who sent Rev. Hensley ten bucks a decade later
for my Universal Life Minister Certificate,
totally sincere.  Where else could I find
a holy book that said it all
in just 5000 ideograms
including how it lied, left it up
to me, and didn't nag? 
                                        Too lazy to memorize
the verses I misconstrued, still I was
a goner, infected
by pure metaphor, a metaphysical virus
reordering my patterns of energy
and perception, my sense
of balance, what mattered
and didn't matter.
                                Born of lumpen Marxists,
this swirl of dialectic
took me deeper, shaped what I made
of the movement I shared and surveyed,
my accord with my mate, and signed
the energies revealed
in psychedelic quest.  Call it corrupted
innocence or union with the Source, it was
both: wilfull and willess, knowing
was enough.


Now the lamp sputters and fades
as heavy fish slap in the lake and my boy
dreams that they take his line, stirs upset
as the hook of feeling strikes me
behind the eyes, bringing me water
at last, in spasms I choke back
for his peace here where we've come
without even fuel for the night or t.p.
to blow my nose, only our bags and tackle
and what it takes to cook our catch, fled
to seek what we seek each in the water
together, one more time, before
we go through it together again.

The Tao is not like anything,
the Tao is like everything,
the Tao is like a fish.  Maybe
it is a fish, I don't know
much about it, I'm learning
to fish with my son.

How could I tell them this
200 miles 4 hours 3 weeks
away in a room where the walls all smiled
so cutely in pastel rainbows and rainbows
when I asked how did everyone cope
and four in a row testified I put my faith
in Jesus, Jesus helps me
do, He cares,
even the one
whose child was most recently dead,
the only one who cried?

What could I say to the mother whose son
still greets mine in the children's group
(yes He does we pray every day
Benny's been in remission
six months now)
, how
could I testify:
Mystery's what we call
what we don't know, God
and Chance: some give it
meaning, some leave it
at that, as even the Tao
obeys a normal curve, governs
mean and variance: thirty percent of his kind
last six months anyway
without a prayer, don't embarrass your doctor
by asking why.  I do care
for you here under the rainbow
and He may too,
but that's we-care.  The Tao
don't care, the Tao just  do,
do be do be do be do
like Ole Man River just rolling along,
don't care how you construe his song,
think I'll go sink a line in the catfish pond ...

... and imagine yokels of the day

DRUGMONGERING SCUM rather than try
to tell these decent people and her and me
just exactly what I do to cope
each time I think
                             of the years my shiksa wife
cursed J*h*v*h in aimless spite, daring him
to a fight, and recall his taste
for firstborn sons
                                 of just exactly how
the intricate DNA word encodes the grim perturbance
triggered by no single cause, by the stream
and our shit in the stream
         of just how soon the blind
gods learning to read the code
will cook life's silver bullet
up right here in the pan
from simple ingredients, butter, dash
of garlic, squeeze the lemon, and presto!
fish of spirit appears, simmering,
bursting with its own juices
as the hooked tines take it
right behind the eyes.


Not catfish pond, but river so slow,
scorched by August (like his heart),
low and murky now (like his blood),
with hard slippery walls (like his veins
flushed with poisons won from a flower),
sheltering strange life.
                                   How to
tell them, how to
agree, that all is consciousness
and metaphor, or explain how my power
betrays me, leaves me to cope
with crossing this rocky valley
again and again, one foot after the other
bum hip on the stumbleprone stone
with my mind a raw bait
for such comparisons to strike
like the fierce bluegills teased out
by his clever jigging of the lure,
the desperate bass slapping the water
before yielding?
                           It was literally the first
fishable stream we hit after the heat
of the Central Valley, our first running water
in weeks.  In a flash
we were out, rigged, working upstream,
shining, eager to shine
for each other: I took the first
and he all the rest, freeing a dozen
too small, lithe body arched
like his rod over water
as rock and leaf glowed
with indelible light and the stream
swept us on.
                      By turnaround time
our prospect of fishing a twilight lake too
was fading as fast as his reserves,
he stumbled even on dry flints
as I jumped over the issue
of peripheral neuropathy catching up
with him, but kept his balance
while we tracked down a town, a late store
for the garlic, and lost it to tears
for only a moment, driving on afraid
our camp would not be right beside a lake
for him to set his line, trout-fierce
even asleep.


He stirs now to deer-steps.  The lamp
flickers on, tank empty, extinction
in miraculous remission.  Our lines drift
where he set them after I conjured light,
showing him how to tie the new mantle on
and burn it to ash, as my father
showed me.  He took me to fish
once at seven, an innocent
himself; I took my son knowing
more, he teaches
me now: so it goes in the Tao,
in the best land, between heaven
and earth, with more lures
than we can use all day and all
night too to do it.
                              By the time our lakelines
were set to his taste the streamfish
were done to mine, and he agreed: the bass
was sweet; but picked at it anyway,
saying frankly, it's a low-appetite day,
I'm turning in.

                        Mine finished and the light,
we faced the stars.  Driving in we'd pondered
earth's motion in heaven, spinning
around a center (0.3 m.p.s.) spinning
around a center (20  m.p.s.) spinning
around a center (370 m.p.s.) spinning
on and on, out and back
in the Tao.  As we snuggled together
we sought our place in the galaxy
real now above us, around us, this light
regarded, infused with meaning
by our own demand.  He has chosen
tents always, this night is our first
in the open together.  Stardust falls
through the oaks' moist exhalations
upon us as I trace its genesis, gascloud
to sunheart to comet to meteor, pea-sized
and quick as a nibble, flaming out
at 15 miles a second above.  I don't
think I've ever seen one,
he says,
wistful, surprised, eleven, the juices
of puberty rising undisturbed
by the treatments two weeks
out of three, how often
do they come
?  And as I tell him the night
obliges, still warm from a recent swarm:
streaks dart across our vision, sleep
to waking, wake to sleep, until
all blurs, fish in the water,
the dreaming stream.


September 1981