The Prince of the Fire Mountain Returns Home
I remain a shadow slim as a clock hand,
moving but with movements indiscernible.
My hair has whitened and my skin,
paper-thin, can barely contain my bones.
When grain spills from my pockets
the birds carry it away.
I’ve left no trail on this long road
scrubbed of landmarks by the rain.
And who would follow me, a man
shunned by friends and enemies alike,
returning from exile
in a country of frozen lakes,
a stone house with barred windows
from which I gazed
at the molten horizon
waiting in vain for the sun to rise.
In my dark room, on a hard bed,
I could have been lying on the seafloor,
tethered to you in my dreams
by a chain of light
that each year dimmed
until it disappeared.
and I was free finally —
to be alone.
In my former life I consorted
with historians who spent decades
excavating the events of a single day;
and actuaries who recorded
births, deaths and marriages
in clear ink on glass tablets;
I dined with blind astronomers
who charted the soul’s constellations;
played Gô with beribboned generals
who conducted great battles;
felled oaks and built towers
beside rough men reeling with visions.
I lived as if my allies were without wiles,
my lovers without guile,
as if my rivals could ever be satisfied
with what was theirs, not mine.
Costly though they were,
these delusions enabled me to live
half my life with an open heart.
My credo was: What I fear, fears me.
But I hadn’t a clue
what I should really fear.
Rain falls on the sloping fields and spills
into ditches that gush into streams
that flood the rivers rushing to sea.
Waterfalls have become my waystations.
Beneath the roar of water that is a man’s life
I hear the muffled clatter of chains.
On the outskirts of my capital a final downpour
erases my tracks even before I make them.
I would gladly drown in my bath,
or in the curl of an emerald wave
rather than remain
on this road another day.
I return to my palace in the guise
of a beggar, like many a prince before me.
I find my wife in another man’s arms,
my sons dead,
my treasury emptied,
my subjects rebelling.
The lake in which I swam as a child
and sailed boats in my youth
is now a boundless sea I must cross
from this life to the next, to a spit of land
beyond which is another sea, and beyond
that more of the same — my true home.