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INK

by Douglas Barricklow

Artwork, “Blushing Peak” by Briana McCormack


I am writing my way into my life on yellow paper

imprinted with green lines, word by word,

step by step along the trail into the jungle.

 

The jungle is dark.

The path leads from the world into my  brain

where the jungle grows, watered by lakes

that nourish the trees beside the trail,

roots connected to the earth.

They are my family.

 

My father, my mother, and my brothers, are my life.

My father lies where he died years ago

after a car knocked him over.

Ferns grow upon the rotting log that used to be his body.

 

My mother wanders the jungle looking for her brain.

She lost it when a river changed direction,

so part dried up and died.

She sits in shadow, her arms crossed over her chest.

She does not have anything to say to anyone, anymore.

She is dead.

 

My brothers look for their lives.

My wife and my children and my granddaughter are my life.

Our roots intertwine to find deep footing on the forest floor.

Everything I have done or have not done,

everything I have thought or have not thought, is my life.

 

I write what I am thinking,

but it is too slow.

I think faster than I write.

I write faster than the ink dries.

I watch the ink flow out the tip of the pen,

and it dries after I finish the word.

 

The drying ink rushes to overtake the pen

as it hurries toward the speeding words

hidden in the jungle in my brain.

I pause, and the ink dries on the last letter in the word,

stamps its feet on the period, and watches the tip of my pen

hover in the air, until the next trail through the jungle appears.

I write with a fountain of ink that flows from the tip of the pen

as I wander paths beside the river, stroll beneath trees

with vines in their branches, stop and listen to birds

startled by monkeys swinging through high canopies.

 

The pen flies along the path, pursued by drying ink,

its constant companion rushing to keep up with my thoughts

as I write my way into the jungle in my brain.

 

Ink shines wetly at the point where pen meets paper,

where foot touches path, where shadow leans

toward the connection with its maker.

 

Ink runs into the deep jungle, as inexorable desiccation

progresses to the final wet letter as it turns dry,

and the shine goes out of its eye, like a fish that realizes its death,

wonders what is next in this waterless place,

as ink watches the pen poised in the humid air,

then runs after it, deeper, pursued by evaporation,

mosquitoes and affectionate anacondas on the limbs of trees.

 

My life gurgles as it splashes onto the page.

The drying rush of ink flows down twisted paths

to overtake the vision of its death, as the body of the word dries,

and moisture escapes into the jungle air.

 

Each stroke on the page, each letter,

each word rises above its corpse as the liquid ascends.

It makes a duplicate copy in the sky-writer sky,

written by an unseen airplane with an engine driven by evaporation.

 

Winds from the mountain blow across the tops of the trees.

Their canopies capture the risen words

in cloud layers above the script on the jungle floor.

 

So, what do you want?

Do you want it to float 100 meters above the jungle canopy,

punctured by tree trunks growing through the aerial text?

Or, do you want the words caught in the branches,

so the tree tops write their version of the script

using their canopies as the ink and the surrounding trees,

the contrasting empty space?

 

While you dither, wind blows the sharp edges off the words.

Fuzzy, woolly, sheepy words wander through the jungle sky,

rub against each other until they unite

with every other moist thing in the air, exchange toasts

to union, to forgetting old differences, to inclusion,

“and rain is thicker than water vapor,”

become invisible moist brothers and sisters under the skin.

 

Below on the jungle floor, ink leaves its dark body

buried beneath the matted fibers of the paper.

Its scribbled trail marks the path to where the words are buried.

 

Follow the trail of the drying ink

and you see the pen point pounce

as it plunges deeper into the jungle,

thrashing arms against poisonous trees, hair stuck full

of verbs and other dangerous insects that suck the vital juices

from clauses that think they are independent,

but nothing ever is, really.

 

Pen writes deep into the dark.

Its trail leads to the place where my life hides

in the jungle watered by lakes.

 

Rivers carry my life to the ocean.

It melts the elements of my body

to be swallowed by fish, who are eaten by killer whales

who are eaten by nobody but the sea, the mother

of the jungle where the door has no key,

the table is laid with dishes of food and drink,

and the fire in the stove never needs tending.

Yet, the room is never too cold, or too warm:

always 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

I write my way into my life.

Do I inscribe words on the empty page, the tabula rasa

in the center of the jungle, my pen the instrument

whose ink reservoir connects to the universal spirit of language

where everything exists, me the conduit

for this stream of dried language, one of an infinite number

that flows from the ocean of language I sail

as I write in the ship’s log

to mark my voyage upon my personal sea?

 

Or, is the page, all language, an infinite number of ways

to record the answers to the most important question:

How can I find meaning in the chaos of life?

Is this page, all pages, all knowledge, all language

that describes everything, my life and my desiccated track of ink,

one finite trail out of a boundless number that my ink illuminates

on the vast tablet of the universe?

It is quiet beside the lake,

trees kissed by the river rushing to the sea.

Leaves quake in the humid wind,

myriad pages filled with words never written.

 

Ink dries quickly in the jungle heat.

Omnipresent insect cacophony.

My pen poised between words,

the ink alert to catch up.


Published inPoetryChapel Hill