David Kirby

The Excellent Trip
September 21, 2018 Kirby David

The Excellent Trip


                                                                        for Mark Pietralunga


You thought you’d need a month. You thought you’d need
art, theater, music, the best dishes washed down
by the finest wines, but look at you—you’re well on your way
already, having walked miles this morning and stopping now

for a sandwich and a glass of water at a wooden table with a friend;
the sun is out, and you’re not thinking too much,
just taking the afternoon as it comes to you. Camus said
that life will be lived all the better if it has no meaning,

that living an experience is accepting it fully—good!
So you and your friend rest for a minute like a couple
of gleaners leaning against a haystack in a painting
by Millet, and then you take up your knapsacks and sticks

and set out again. As Dante passed through Purgatory
with Virgil, he said, “Speech did not slow our walking, / nor
walking our speech, but we hastened on while speaking,
like a ship driven by a good wind.” Together you enter

the town just one over and take the road out of the main square;
though the climb is steep, the trail is well-marked,
and soon you’re passing exhausted rock quarries,
and on you go, pausing often to catch your breath,

until you reach the grassy hilltop where you find nothing,
not even grass. Below you, though, the river winds,
and the great dome of the cathedral seems to pull everything
toward it: some see the village and the railway and think

that the poetry of the landscape is broken up, says Emerson,
whereas the poet sees them fall within the great order
no less than the beehive. You turn to speak to your friend,
but he’s on his feet now, and down you go off the other side

of the mountain, and after a while you meet a woman
with a dog, and then a man with another dog, and then
another man with another dog still, and before long,
you’re at the road that will take you back to the world again,

and sure, you could walk, but there’s a bus stop, and soon
you and your friend are rattling toward town like
Dante, though with Guido Cavalcanti this time instead
of Virgil, far out at sea on a boat powered by wizardry,

a craft that goes where they tell it to as they pass
their days in deepening fellowship, firm friends
who wish always to be together. How good it is
to sit now at a café and order a beer, one so bubbly

and bright-colored that it makes you want to be
that way yourself, so you finish it and buy
another round, since your friend paid for the first one.
That barren hilltop was like the one Leonardo wanted

to launch his flying machine from, the great bird
“filling the universe with wonder, filling all
the histories / with its fame,” as the artist wrote in 1505,
and “thus glory eternal / to the place that gave it birth,”

though the flight never took place any more than
anything ever happened on this excellent trip,
one that cost you not a penny—well, a bus ticket, sure,
and whatever you spent in the grocery store

when you bought bread and meat to make those sandwiches.
You would have made a sandwich anyway and eaten it
by yourself had your friend not proposed this splendid outing.
You’ve been to the opera and the great museums, and you’ll

go again. You’ve eaten oysters, beefsteak, pears poached
in red wine; all that and more awaits you still.
Today you walked in the hills and listened to the birds
as they sang mindlessly. And your friend was with you.

David Kirby teaches at Florida State University, where he is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English. His latest books are a poetry collection, Help Me, Information, and a textbook modestly entitled The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them. Kirby is also the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement described as “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” He is currently on the editorial board of Alice James Books.