— Vuong Vu
I find myself walking for hours
out into the city. Yesterday, I passed
by the house of a poet who died,
the tree from which he fell
still stood, still stretched heavenward.
He lost his poems once.
Out in the country, he was on a motorcycle,
and his knapsack broke, and out flew a storm
of paper. Everything he wrote flew out
into the fields. He wrote little afterwards;
he said there is no need—
Everything is poetry, and poetry
on paper is the same
as poetry in the sun.
He was right: This city, my city, is a poem.
There is a part of Fresno that I swear
looks like Paris. The concrete wall
of an aqueduct resembles a bank
of the River Seine, I swear it!
Fresno is, of course, not Paris,
nor was it ever meant to be.
I have walked past orchards, towering granaries,
agricultural ponds and aqueducts,
have walked past blocks of the city’s decay,
past neighborhoods of abandoned homes,
orchards left to become garbage dumps.
I have seen the boarded windows
of meth houses, tent cities along railways,
have walked by a congregation
of the homeless on street corners.
These, too, are the places
that I walk because they also
are a part of Fresno’s poetry.
Lately, I walk by the houses of poets a lot.
There are always gardens—grape vines
and lemon trees and sweet peas.
Even in the houses where poets
once lived, the flowers still grow.
Fresno poets do not die,
it seems, of heartbreak or loneliness,
though there is plenty of that in life.
I have heard too many stories of cancer—
cancer blown from the cornfields,
blown to our friends Roberta Spear,
Andres Montoya, Ernesto Trejo,
to our friend, Michael McGuire,
I have heard too many stories
of cancer, that and Chuck Moulton
falling from his tree, that and the heart
of Larry Levis that failed him.
A poet’s life is always too brief.
And I think about this as I walk out
into the city for hours, out to the city’s edge
where it disappears back into farm fields,
fig orchards, where paved streets
become dirt roads, where loneliness hangs
in the air, like a cloud of dust.