Reckoning appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Stonecoast Review (University of Southern Maine). This poem came about as an amalgam of a few different things that came together in my mind to create a snapshot of a character.
The first was from a visit to Yosemite National Park, when three friends and I were walking near the village and saw a bobcat. This wasn’t a “sighting”, it was realizing a bobcat stood six feet away. It behaved just as I’ve described it in the poem, having almost no reaction to its close proximity with us, affording us a great close-up look before it walked away.
The second came out of camping in Big Sur and experiencing the infamous stretch of highway there. This combined with my affection for big moustaches, heroes and villains both fictional and real, pirates, desperados, bikers, hippies, unknown legends and lovers who sweep through town with a devil-may-care attitude. This combined even further with a contemplation of the connection that exists between the Big Sur/Monterey area, American literature (Steinbeck, Henry Miller, Robert Louis Stevenson), poetry (Robinson Jeffers) and the Beats (Kerouac).
The final image in the poem is “the temple of well-fed lions”. It’s become a recurring phrase in my poetry; I’ve used it three or four times, and now it threatens over-use, so I should probably leave it alone for a good long while. It came about one morning after a solid night of sound sleep, when I felt so deeply rested I thought about how lions look, lazing about after a feast and sleeping away the majority of the hours in a 24-hour time cycle. That same morning I happened to be looking at Maxfield Parrish’s “Daybreak”, and the temple image merged with the sleeping lion image in a moment of inspiration.
Picking my way along a path
passing through mountains,
I suddenly came upon a bobcat.
It yawned, barely acknowledged me,
sauntered past, six feet away.
As I watched it evaporate into the forest,
moving as if to say the world is mine,
I was struck by an overwhelming desire
to grow a hedgerow moustache,
covering the expanse of my upper lip
like Mark Twain, Sam Elliot,
or a rugged musclebound hippie biker
who wears a rolled-up yoga mat
slung across his back
where you’d think
a double-barreled shotgun would be,
hugging the curves
of Highway One through Big Sur
on his sweet, sweet chopper,
all at once a sage, recluse,
iconoclast, beatnik, mountain man,
and unknown legend,
inviting you to join him
at the temple of well-fed lions
in order to empty your spleen
of accumulated dreams.