Eating with the Emperor - Jack Gilbert
Sixteen year old, surrounded by beasts in the pens
at two in the morning. The animals invisible.
Clumsy sounds of their restlessness in the dark.
Touching them. Not for the risk, but for the clues.
Not for the danger. Searching into the difference,
and the smell of wildness all around. The stink
of yaks and hyenas, the wet breathing of buffalo.
There is no handbook, no map for his heart in there,
no atlas for his spirit ever. The only geography
we have is the storybooks of our childhood. We go
step by step, mouthful and handful at a time.
Is this an apple? Yes, it tastes like an apple.
The bible says the good place is somewhere else.
This somewhere else is certainly not that one.
He had no hope of getting to what he seemed to be.
When I think of him among camels, tapirs, and llamas,
it reminds me of the banquets of Japanese emperors.
Each dish of marvelous food was put in front of
the guest and, after a while, taken away untouched.
Course after course. I remember that youth I was
and wonder if it is the same way with the soul.
They never learned whether the emperor's food was
just much better or if it was something beyond that.
We end up asking what our lives really tasted like.