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Two Entries in the Annals of Wayfaring


As nomads camp where others camped before,
As mice find winter digs under the stair,
As this year's swallows build their summer nest
Among the raftered nurseries of the past;
As mosses lodge in crevices of stone—
We too lodge in lodgings not our own.

A good hotel is its own household. It runs
On its own clock, from the moment the sky brightens
And the night clerk opens the door out back
To the Polish cleaning ladies and the cook.
What a good thing that you have quartered here
In this commercial largeness—solid, four-square,
Redolent of beeswax and veneer,
Correct as the concierge's boutonniere,
Secure as the Bank of England before the war.
Unseen, the staff perform their offices:
A dust cloth swishes over polished surfaces,
A hoover hums across a carpet somewhere,
The tea-tray that you ordered appears at your door.
From your window you can see the dome of St. Paul's;
The morning is quickened by the tongues of bells.
Breakfasted, you sprawl in a wingback chair
And read the morning papers for an hour.


But what are these bourgeois assurances to you, traveller?
To one who has slept out under night skies
    on the edge of the planet
and heard the canyon wren
         sing in the morning?—

to one who has watched the moon set over Shiraz
at the moment the muezzin's call woke worshippers
for namaz, and you stumbled to the mosque
to wash and pray your heterodox prayers
shoulder to shoulder with the men of quarter?

Waking up on the floor of an inn in Pokhara,
you were handed a mug of yak-butter tea;
then you strapped on your backpack
and set out on the trek to Annapurna
along the path that pilgrims take.

                            * * *

Go back, go further back
    in the annals of wayfaring.
Leaf back a page or two into the gone-by.
The traveller with a credit card and a passport
is of the house and lineage
of the saddhu with matted hair and a begging bowl,
migrants and malcontents, drifters and dervishes,
tramps and barefooted friars, all who go out on the roads;
the man who has journeyed to Mecca
    and can write Haji before his name;
the pilgrim who has walked to Compostela
         and earned the right
to add a scallop shell to his coat of arms.

Dismount, set down your bundle.
Here's straw to cushion your bedroll,
deadfall oak from the forest for your cooking fire.
Your horse can munch the fallen apples in the orchard
while you stretch out after supper and smoke your pipe
under the astonishment of the constellations,
those legend-threaded pathways through the dark.

Richard Tillinghast

Wayfaring Stranger
Word Palace Press

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