“The Solitude Drink”

— Jean Valentine, from Night Lake

Brandy, the taste of promise.
Water laced with canteen and sun.
Stars pouring like a tent over the tent
and the lamp’s long exhale after another day
finished neatly as a chapter in which one has moved
according to plan: today, the village of Tsokha, strung
like a single bead along the Rangeet River. Mt. Pandim,
brilliant over clouds, where the snow never fades.
Bills softened with sweat and dust, traded for
incense, a brass bell, a rectangle of garnet
silk embroidered with gold.

The map made everything clear at first, the route
a muscle stretched over mountains and scrub.
Now the night tastes of open-ended desire
for true north, something indefinable
whose burnished silence seeps between
the ribs, up the spine to the blossoming crown,
over unlined pages where now a pen moves
with steady whispers, each word appearing
like a stone placed by a stranger on a slippery path.

The old self packed a rucksack with dried meat,
spare linens, knives… It left room for artifacts
to take home as proof one can refurbish
a colorless life. Now it’s someone else’s hand
that lifts the canvas flap to peer beyond
the next stakeout, and the next, preparing to travel
with both arms free. From the surrounding
darkness, their eyes floating like coins,
animals that live here come closer, neither
hunting nor hunted. Stones glow
just beyond the page, weightless.

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