Finding the Space in the Heart
I first saw it in the sixties,
driving a Volkswagen camper
with a fierce gay poet and a
lovely but dangerous girl with a husky voice,
we came down from Canada
on the dry east side of the ranges. Grand Coulee, Blue
Mountains, lava flow caves,
the Alvord desert—pronghorn ranges—
and the glittering obsidian-paved
dirt track toward Vya,
seldom-seen roads late September and
thick frost at dawn; then
follow a canyon and suddenly open to
silvery flats that curved over the edge
O, ah! The
awareness of emptiness
brings forth a heart of compassion!
We followed the rim of the playa
to a bar where the roads end
and over a pass into Pyramid Lake
from the Smoke Creek side,
by the ranches of wizards
who follow the tipi path.
The next day we reached San Francisco
in a time when it seemed
the world might head a new way.
And again, in the seventies, back from
Montana, I recklessly pulled off the highway
took a dirt track onto the flats,
got stuck—scared the kids—slept the night,
and the next day sucked free and went on.
Fifteen years passed. In the eighties
With my lover I went where the roads end.
Walked the hills for a day,
looked out where it all drops away,
discovered a path
of carved stone inscriptions tucked into the sagebrush
“Stomp out greed”
“The best things in life are not things”
words placed by an old desert sage.
Faint shorelines seen high on these slopes,
long gone Lake Lahontan,
cutthroat trout spirit in silt—
Columbian Mammoth bones
four hundred feet up on the wave-etched
beach ledge; curly-horned
desert sheep outlines pecked into the rock,
and turned the truck onto the playa
heading for know-not,
bone-gray dust boiling and billowing,
mile after mile, trackless and featureless,
let the car coast to a halt
on the crazed cracked
flat hard face where
winter snow spirals, and
summer sun bakes like a kiln.
Off nowhere, to be or not be,
all equal, far reaches, no bounds.
Sound swallowed away
no waters, no mountains, no
bush no grass and
because no grass
no shade but your shadow.
No flatness because no not-flatness.
No loss, no gain. So—
nothing in the way!
—the ground is the sky
the sky is the ground,
no place between, just
time being here.
We meet heart to heart,
leg hard-twined to leg,
with a kiss that goes to the bone.
Dawn sun comes straight in the eye. The tooth
of a far peak called King Lear.
Now in the nineties desert night
—my lover’s my wife—
old friends, old trucks, drawn around;
great arcs of kids on bikes out there in darkness
no lights—just planet Venus glinting
by the calyx crescent moon,
and tasting grasshoppers roasted in a pan.
They all somehow swarm down here—
sons and daughters in the circle
eating grasshoppers grimacing,
singing sūtras for the insects in the wilderness,
—the wideness, the
foolish loving spaces
full of heart.
Walking on walking,
under foot earth turns
Streams and mountains never stay the same.
The space goes on.
But the wet black brush
tip drawn to a point,
Marin-an 1956—Kitkitdizze 1996
Gary Snyder, “Finding the Space in the Heart” from Mountains and Rivers Without End. Copyright © 2008 by Gary Snyder. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press.
Source: Mountains and Rivers Without End (Counterpoint Press, 2008)