For a long time the Spanish from Spain
Who came here became slightly insane
In a special way and just a little.
You can try this yourself.
Walk farther than you can into the forest in New York
So it’s a toss-up whether or not you know the way back.
For you there’s going to be a smidge of confusion, a glow of fear
That smells like burning rye toast,
And the illusion that you are the only person alive
On the earth. You will probably have the second illusion
That no one likes you, which doesn’t jibe with the first illusion
Of no other people. This was about the extent of it, for the Spanish,
They felt all that just a few hours a week, but every week at home,
Living in, say, small San Francisco,
Which made thinking slow and hard at these times,
But if you try this yourself in the deep woods
You’ll see you can still think enough
And you’ll remember your way back to the loving arms
Of your wife, husband, or mother, in Rochester. (Yes,
You could try it as a child, but please don’t.)
The Spanish had a purpose to walk east inland to the Sierras, the gold.
The Indians said there were five hills and two mountains
Entirely of gold and you had to wear ferns dangling before your eyes
Like sunglasses when you got near the mountains.
The hills, they said, were not so bright.
The Spanish thought this was bullshit
But were having trouble with the coast (where
They truly believed the gold was) which was that boats
Could not travel north and south even as fast as people walking
Because the Pacific coast was opposing currents (you made
Half a mile an hour in the water with biggest sail).
An expedition of thirty Spaniards from Spain (living
In small San Francisco) walked east inland toward what’s now Mariposa.
It means butterfly. In that place, the shivering feathery
Insects rose from the ground and blacked out the sun.
The sky had no room for more butterflies so the leftovers attached to the trees,
Making the trees appear like ragged trees.
Look up the other way, the explorers said to each other, but
That way, when they did, was no blue sky but darkness of orange insects
That did not fly in clouds but were the sky,
So any forward motion by the thirty men seemed, not seemed
Did make the sky covered each inch
With the thin trembling insects, brown or green or orange,
But as a whole a black ceiling with little light between them and the men,
Who thought slow and hard but did think, and so returned
To small San Francisco where no one believed them but understood
The illusion because when they asked the thirty men
What such an encounter with butterflies felt like, the men described
Feeling the way all the colonists and explorers and priests and women
Felt a few hours each week at home—
Fear making the olfactory illusion of burning rye toast hand
In hand with the illusion of being the only one
And the simultaneous but contradictory illusion
That no one likes you. How could everybody hate you
If there was no everybody? Or even anybody.
Well there was a way to fix this
And we use it now around here (I
Mean in New York and California and Nevada and Hawaii,
Not just in my house) which is to wrap our loving arms
Around each other. It works very well
And I know you’ve tried it.
The Spanish from Spain brought virtuous women
Over for that purpose only (you don’t think the virtuous babes looked
For gold, did you?) and it worked very well
Except the women were worse, I mean much worse,
Not just specially a little insane and needed
The loving arms much more than the men.
They needed longer sessions and more sessions.
What’s more, if the expedition of thirty butterfly
Illusionists had gone six miles further,
They would have seen silver sticking out of the ground
Like glass after a four-car accident on a street in Rochester.
But for many decades the promise of the waiting loving arms,
Versus the unacceptable illusion of the butterflies
Forming the entire black sky, kept them near the coasts.
When you put down this book, you could decide
For yourself if it is true that wrapping loving arms around
Somebody is as temporarily powerful as I’ve made it
Out to be or is possibly permanently powerful or is an illusion
Like the massed feathery insects which were absolute.