For A. F-H., whose smile is our beacon.
Long I wandered wild in lonesome lands
Footsore and weary through barren plain
And rock-peppered hillside, though be it in vain
Seeking a country where a person might thrive
I staggered and scrabbled, half-dead, half-alive
Digging sour meals from desolate sands.
In darkness I trudged as through a great maze
In endless dim hollows I scooped and I strayed
Thinking myself master of all I surveyed
Not knowing the name of the lands that I crossed
But knowing the freedom of those who are lost
Until two bright ****** appeared through the haze:
The stars!--I’d never known them before!
Or thought I had, but these were spectral and wild
And flickered and danced like the hands of a child
Had I known only cold white pebbles in space?
But these were of substance and held in embrace
A promise of peace upon some distant shore.
My wandering complete, my journey begun
I set my shoulders and plotted my course
I travelled with purpose now, seeking the source
Until I met another wanderer who--
Come now!--You see them?--Will you follow them too?
And we went on together, as one.
The stars, ephemeral, shifting color and hue
Lured us on like some mystic queen’s diadem
We puzzled at great length on the nature of them
Were they set to guide us? Or tear us asunder?
They calmed us, inspired us, and--wonder of wonder--
We met other travellers, who followed them too.
They must hold in their beauty some grim destiny!
A dozen, a score of us beat out a path
Through grasslands and forests, a widening swath
Teeming with hope, on a night cool and still
We gathered our strength, crested one final Hill--
And looked down on a town called Century.
Ah, Century! That was the name, and mark it well!
There was no fanfare; we were not expected.
But we were greeted warmly, and accepted
With quiet grace we were handed mugs of beer,
Given seats by the fire as if we always were here.
And perhaps we were: I cannot tell.
I had my ease there, and fell to talking
With a quiet and ancient man, who listened, rapt,
As I told of our exodus, and then clapped
With joy as I mentioned the stars when they came.
He bristled with pride, as though hearing the name
Of an old dear friend, finally come knocking.
I (with a penchant for telling, of course,
And seeing his bright face elated to hear it)
Described how the stars cried out to my spirit,
How they swooped and they soared as if in a pageant
And glittered with every color imagined,
Sweeping my future along with their force.
He greeted my discourse with little surprise.
He chuckled and rocked on his small wooden throne
And bested my story with one of his own.
“My vision is gone,” he said, “Those stars are no more,
Though I’ve seen what you speak of, one time before--
Not in stars, but a shepherd-woman’s eyes.
“Before there was a town here, there was naught
But a rustling river that gabbled and hissed
And a tribe of lost creatures, spied through the mist
Scattered by champions and kings long forgotten,
Trod on, passionless, wispy as cotton;
To scratch out meager living was their only thought.
“This the shepherdess found when first she arrived.
Others found them pathetic, worth a glance, if that much,
But her heart was a lion’s, and she saw them as such.
Her banner flew proudly, it snapped and it played
As she rode through the valley to begin her crusade;
The people knew darkness, had merely survived--
“But her light came to them to fill them with vigor.
She shone like a beacon, she growled and roared
And the lost souls came unto her as a horde
A lantern, she fed them her fierceness and love:
A lighthouse below, and two stars up above.
Dim history’s vast, but her glow proved the bigger.
“They came to honor her--we* came, I should say,
She taught us to teach ourselves, taught us to build.
Taught us to love ‘til our heart’s overfilled.
We built her a statue to never forget
And shine a bright lantern from each parapet
And we carry her legend to this very day:
“Ambition we have to be more than we were,
And know that we each have a light of our own;
When grim fate insults and the road’s overgrown,
The sun shines down here and heals every hurt twice
Where she led us and let us build our paradise,
And we call ourselves Century, after her.”
Now nestle I here where all roads end.
The old man hyperbolizes, of course--as do I,
But lead us by example she did, by and by,
And her light shines as long as memory will allow,
We treasure her beacon as much then, as now,
And she has been, and always will be, my friend.