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Travel Edition

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by | May 13, 2021

May 15th is nearly upon us. If plans hold, on that day my family and I plus two dogs, a cat and six suitcases will depart from Washington, Dulles International, for a long trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. So, let’s consider this Lines of Thinking episode a travel edition.

For some time, I have been wanting to work in this poem by Yuan Hongdao (1568 -1610s), known for bucking the poetic/literary conventions of his day.

On Receiving My Letter of Termination

The time has come to devote myself to my hiker’s stick;
I must have been a Buddhist monk in a former life!
Sick, I see returning home as a kind of pardon.
A stranger here—being fired is like being promoted.
In my cup, thick wine; I get crazy-drunk,
eat my fill, then stagger up green mountain.
The southern sect, the northern sect, I’ve tried
        them all:
this hermit has his own school of Zen philosophy

And from another Chinese poet with the same surname—Yuan Mei (1716 – 1798)—who traveled widely collecting ghost stories and advocating women’s education. His poetry is influenced by Zen and Taoist ideas.

They Mock Me for Planting Trees at My Age

Seventy and still planting trees…
Don’t laugh at me, my friends,
Of course I know I am going to die.
I also know I’ m not dead yet.

Last for this month is a poem of mine titled, “Borrowdale.” As always, I keep my finger on the piece to try it out. What can I say; It’s a work-in-progress!


Thirty years on, I read,
there were only a few horses
left at Borrowdale.

When we went there,
just outside Harare, the old
Rhodesian course was still in use.

It was evening though,
and the horses were off,
to stables unseen.

But the restaurant,
you knew of, was open,
atop the empty stands,

Light from its windows
pushing against darkness,
sending shadows and noise

into the summer night
and across the groomed earthen
track and watered grass infield

Fresh in a parched country;
I remember the cool
rising from the ground

To brushing fingers and face
as we climbed
the grandstand stairs.

For the meaty English
dinners, ordered a wine
from South Africa,

Half a decade after
Mandela delivered himself
from the cold prison island

And more than three centuries
after the Dutch East India
Company and later refugee

Huguenots came to occupy
the temperate valleys
and Cape hills

Bringing rootstock,
wooden barrels of wine
and old knowledge

From Persia via
Greece via via
via Rome and the Alps.

To fight scurvy
among the voyaging
sailors was the reason

Jan Van Ri was sent off
to cultivate the first vineyards
near Good Hope.

And now we three—
speakers of Shona, Ndebele
and Californian English—

Drink a Merlot
so strongly noted with
coffee, you joked

We would need none
the next morning with breakfast
in the Bronte garden.

Café terroir!
A special personality of soil
that gives wine

From a particular patch of land,
from a particular place
on Earth, character,

A power of its own
to exert, one might even say,
to persist as itself.

Finally, a bit of drinking
pragmatics or oenophile magic
worthy of Dionysius himself:

Gods who once punished
the vines of France and Europe,
blight by aphid,

Grape phylloxera via
North America, defeated by
resistant Missouri, USA rootstock,

Replenished by vines
from Napa and Sonoma,
and even

Older cuttings
from Stellenbosch
in the Cape.

Borrowdale park is also
revived, horses race there
again, they run the course:

as always, clockwise.


About Lines of Thinking

Lines of Thinking is a monthly feature from College President Emeritus Tom Manley. Each installment features a poem selected for its powers to transport us to some higher, lower or common ground, and, possibly in the process, provide fresh perspective and insight on the ground we occupy daily.