When we visited Khao Sok, a rainforest national park in southern Thailand, I was struck by the variation of color in the tall cliffs next to where we were staying. As I began to describe them, I found myself overwhelmed by the vibrancy of life surrounding me. All I could manage then was pages and pages of words, which I only managed to organize into a poem a week later, after a full free day spent working on it. I truly believe this may be one of my best works, and I hope that you enjoy it!
by Charlotte Stang
The cliffs are white, with
black streaks and orange splotches.
Or perhaps they are orange,
with black streaks and white splotches.
If I were to paint them, I would make them
purple, with black streaks over orange
and white splotches, so layered and varied
that the purple is hidden behind
eons of weather, erosion, rust...
Mostly the cliffs are green,
brushed by large strokes of trees,
bushes, vines, growing from the stone,
extending wherever they can take root, hanging,
as if it was no effort at all.
All this and I’ve barely begun
to describe the cliffs. I want to
capture every detail of every
image, from the lichen on the swing
to the birds that flit through the canopy
to the world beneath the soil. I want to
describe the light sparkling off the water,
the reeds bending against the current,
flowing, traveling, leading around the bend
to rapids that fill the air
with a white tumble, just out of sight.
Even the trees seem to hum and
the mountains rumble a bass line;
the wind whispers lyrics to the leaves as
birds chatter above and a sudden crash behind
announces the passage of a monkey.
A caterpillar crunches on a leaf next to me.
I want to describe the cracks in the clouds,
like crazing on ancient pottery;
the twist of two branches that have
danced around each other all their lives;
the leaves that hide their faces
from the lightest touch of an insect’s leg—
I want to capture, to remember, to tell,
to see. The eye focuses on
one thing, one spot, one image at a time.
Like a butterfly from flower to flower,
it can never see the meadow. So the poet
can give one word, one image, one poem at a time.
I have pages of words yet I cannot convey...
Perhaps I have failed as a poet, perhaps
I should have been a painter like Frank O’Hara,
because as I come to the end of my page,
full of words that are too many
and will never be enough,
I look up at the cliffs,
and wonder if they are purple.