Christopher Buckley

Refugee & Existential
October 24, 2021 Buckley Christopher


I read the Spanish for any clue,
stole every scrap I could, climbed
Hernandez’s tree of impossible things
beyond the last limb of sense.
And still it took ages to get anywhere.
Like a Visigoth, I shoved
every bit I could into my sack
as if my grey cells would outlast
the light . . .
ended up with nothing
in my pockets but a handkerchief
and my ragged imagination—white flags
I wave at a moment’s notice.
I studied philosophy in my 20s when
it couldn’t do anyone any good.
The old gods must have been the last
ones on these eroded headlands
before the benches and trash bins
were abandoned to starlings and crows
who patrol the paths and share
the dull water in sprinkler wells,
the crumbs and useless supplications
abandoned on the picnic tables
where I wasted days and nights
thinking about a job.
Before I knew it,
there was no way to unknot the rope
of middle age, and, looking less and less
like whoever I was when I arrived,
I knew it was still me inside—
the dilemmas and complaints
just changing hats and coats, arguing
it out with no appreciable results.
Aristotle proclaimed 9 windows to the soul—
if that’s so, they’ve been looking out on fog,
dust blown off the tamarisks, withered strips
of eucalyptus marking the cliff’s boundary
of air where I’m bending in the prevailing wind,
in one of my thrift shop Hawaiian shirts—
palm trees, parrots, pink hibiscus—the faded
blue, Pacific light.
Salt air, on-shore breeze,
tidelines from the day before—not a hint
where you can leave even one misery behind.
No doubt we’ll arrive in that country
from where we set off, little more than grey
particulate from the ossuary of dusk
in our hands, if that.
Cloud drift,
sea thrift, smoke from driftwood fires,
the interrogation of street lights on the road
out of town . . . whatever I came here for,
sinks in the memory of the sea, a star
glistening beneath the waves. . . .  I sit back,
breathing without a single formula
to oppose the industries of the dark—
and where the sky runs out,
what do we do there?
I fear what might not
await us as the night comes on and catches me
out beneath a sky that for now saves me
from the stars, from the imminent
relapse into dust glimmering above
the bay.
But aren’t we measured by
that dust, by the deaths of our friends?
I can stand here counting stars
as comrades slip in to twilight—
that’s where counting finally gets you.
I stop and admire the last day lilies,
and that looks like it—so far as
salvation is concerned. . . .



“. . . they do not look for, nor do they believe it to have any divine force, but they believe that they will some time discover a stronger and more immortal Atlas to hold everything together more, and they do not believe that the truly good and ‘binding’ binds and holds them together.” — Plato, Phaedo 99
The way it looks there are 2 chances—
slim and none—that any of us
brought something with us
from the other side
of the clouds,
from some cosmic fissure,
as opposed to multiplying and dividing
our way out of the Devonian sea.
Anthropologists say we popped up
on the savannas with a tabula rasa
and a breathable atmosphere.
But once
you’ve used up the smattering of time
you had for gazing out the window,
there’s not much left on the table
of speculation.
Some say a soul’s
just a little light loosened from stars,
though stars have always been
so bourgeois.
Do you think
Sartre worried about transcendence . . .
or about the moldering chicken
Simone de Beauvoir liberated
from a bin in back of the butcher’s,
curried, and served for dinner?
Or about his first play sweated out
on scraps of paper in the German
POW camp?
The lights of Paris survived,
with the perplexed heart of Albert Camus
added to the mix . . . and travel—
famous handshakes with Fidel and Che,
who had other ideas entirely.
And on top
of that, semiotics and New Historicism,
the festering politics of academic affliction.
Even so, Jean Paul could get sentimental
after 2 martinis and some saxophone music,
and Simone refused to ever cook again,
so they went out each evening for drinks
at bistros, late dinners at brasseries—
street lights, stars on the water,
a bateaux mouche moving by, dark as fate . . .
and thus put up with each other’s
assignations, writing home half-sadly,
lighting up Gauloises, their lives
and the smoke drifting away.
Years ago,
considering this over good wine, my friend
Peter said, You’re the oldest young man
I know, and laughed his tremendous laugh.
No one had his clarity of heart . . . and now
I can’t remember what we ever decided,
what we settled on or dismissed before
he was gone. . . .
I want to believe
he’s somewhere with Hernandez’s unending
lightning, or with some shepherds by a fire,
or traipsing—if there is somewhere?—
through the vineyards which give off,
in autumn, a little violet mist, underscoring
the birds flying slowly west, disappearing
into the grey tracings of the sky. . . .

Christopher Buckley’s most recent book is One Sky to the Next, winner of the Longleaf Press Book Prize, 2023. He has recently edited: The Long Embrace: Contemporary Poets on the Long Poems of Philip Levine, Lynx House Press, 2020; and NAMING THE LOST: THE FRESNO POETS—Interviews & Essays, Stephen F. Austin State Univ. Press, 2021.