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Best of the Web 2010
(Dzanc Books)

Headlong for that Fair Target

The traveller owns the grateful sense
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence…
— John Greenleaf Whittier, from “Snow-Bound”
You might have said our aim was bad,
for we had spent years chasing it — that
sweetness near, the target that kept moving
with the years, borne away on wings,
or in the open freight cars that rattled
through the night across vast sweeps
of plain, or sealed in envelopes sent
by courier from Vladivostok to Minsk —
we tracked it in the packs of mules
making their slow way up the tortuous
paths of the Himalayas, or glimpsed
on a backroad in Mississippi, then
lost around a bend — despite our expert aim,
like a mirage, it always moved
before us, always just beyond, no one
knew quite where it might be found —
and so we traveled on, read almanacs,
picked up lingua francas, practiced our aim,
visited psychics, mystics; racked our brains,
riffled through racks and racks of
clothes, of magazines, guide books, schedules
for the island ferries, encyclopedias;
pursued it through the chartless ways, the Metro
of D.C., and the sewers of Paris, among
the living and the dead; it led us to frontiers,
to the opening of the Panama Canal,
the discovery of snail warfare in the margins
of monastic manuscripts, the zero
that could hold an empty place, the neutron bomb,
the seedless tangerine.
Some thought it
could be found in a dream of used-to-be — for Freud,
it was his mama’s knee; for Orpheus, Eurydice;
for Yeats, full moon that mixed its silver with
Byzantine gold domes; for the philosophes
time-whitened porticos of reason, poised high
above the marketplace; for all the weary
workers, abundant Eden with its frolicking
naked pair… oh, where was the fair
target to be found? this strange ground-zero
of desire, concentric circles, widening out
from a central lure, the jewel in the dragon’s lair…
But look! the weather-vane is turning in
the wind — its arrow, this time, points the way.
You can feel it in the air, beneficent and beckoning,
and look! a light that’s bobbing up ahead, though
strangely, it glows red, is swinging like a lantern
in the dark, the way trains used to look when they had
passed, their smoke still hanging in the air, the light
on their caboose a vanishing point of red.

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