Which mountain should we climb?
you asked one night in your bed, our bodies
touching under the tan blanket, my nose
buried in your neck, my lips just grazing there
where my breath was dancing.
I could not help but think
of mountains in Japanese novels, of their strength
and their mass, their contrast with the quiet moon.
But you had not read those books
and I had not talked enough about them.
What then did you mean by mountain
when there are none near?
I thought my answer would be all,
that this answer would be a man’s voice sounding,
but could tell by the tone translated by your tongue
that this answer wouldn’t be right,
that you’d accept it in silence as one does
the speaker of a foreign language, smiling, to be nice.
Still thinking of the moon, and the strength
of a mist-ringed mountain, I looked
into your face for a faint trace of an answer.
Your eyes were shut; I kissed their lids
and touched your fresh, clean cheek.
You stirred, dug a little deeper
into my arms, and soon fell asleep.
I still remember how this poem came about. It was 1998, and I was fascinated by the Japanese authors Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, and, to a lesser extent, Kenzaburo Oe. Mount Fuji is often mentioned in Japanese literature, and I would look up pictures of it to gaze at. I had recently finished reading the exquisite and exotic Sea of Fertility tetralogy and was thinking about satori moments (similar to an epiphany) and started writing a few lines down about mountains while drinking coffee. I still like this poem and the way it sounds when read aloud (please, read poetry aloud). Most of my poetry consists of terse, tension filled fragments (most evident in the series of Thomas poems); this is more lyrical.
The poem was published in Volume XIV of Oxford Magazine in 2000. The magazine is still active, and they can be found online here.