First, I am a poet. Second, I am a travel journalist. But like nature itself, the two live within my personal ecosystem in a delicate balance. For instance, two weeks ago, I drove to the Catskills with my business partner, Gretchen Kelly, so that we could experience, and later write about, the amenities and accommodations of the Emerson Spa. However, as I was examining the overall ambiance and evaluating the level of service, I could not escape the truth that all around me was a rich, literary history. Here, Washington Irving penned Rip Van Winkle in 1819, and within this bucolic setting, two H.P. Lovecraft stories take place with their own mysterious nature.
Perhaps it was the quotations from Ralph Waldo Emerson that decked the walls of the Spa in various locations, and set my mind down its usual productive pathway. For that is my process; the poem proceeds my understanding of it, and I become part poet, part listener. Something drew me to the balcony outside my spacious room, and it was that same something that placed the first words on the blank page of my journal. Something told me to bring that along, as well.
Seeing the Catskills Beyond my Sight
If it were not for my eyes,
this Catskill Mountain landscape
would rely on the symphony of sound,
a catbird crying to mother air,
cicadas strumming their washboard thighs,
a distant mower, man-made thunder
shouldering its waves past all other sounds.
Without eyes, touch would endure –
Emerson Spa, as textural as the honeybee
finding space between the slats of wood
on a porch of treated lumber.
There are times I wish I could find a space
between the slats of all my days awake,
feeling the trembling stress points
of the life to which I must return.
For now, tall grasses caress what’s left of me,
transcendentalist scrapbook moments,
the pinhead insect feet that land on me,
air so light I swear I wear nothing.
With eyes closed
I smell the hickory smoke of nightfall,
a bonfire, the embers of friendship;
We will know each other
for only a few more hours.
I will be the one you think of
when recalling those bright green trees
or the syncope of a bluejay
flashing its colors like a fan under the sun,
the paperwasps strolling along the porch railing
or the white noise of your halcyon days
in a small town near Woodstock.
- Michael Alpiner