On The Road



John Moncure Wetterau


remnant of cane

at roadside,

segmented, pale yellow,

curving up,

long sharp leaves

tossing in rain shower,

green calligraphy

on a gray sky:

here, now,




Big Island, Hawaii

Pu'u Hue


Climbing toward Pu'u Hue

the road snakes and wiggles

through a shaded gulch—

smell of ginger, flaming red

lehua blossoms, avocados,

wild pigs—then: sunny fields,

higher views of ocean,

Haleakala across the channel.

Up a long hill,

new houses with the old,

past the Pu'u Mamo turn,

up and up and out onto

the western slopes

of the Kohala Mountains,

green and gold and brown,

the grade less steep,

still climbing toward Pu'u Hue,

the first cone mauka.

Past Pu'u Hue,

the twin tops of Lahikiola,

Pu'u Lepo makai.

On to the crest,

then steeply down to Waimea—

Mauna Kea, Hualalai,

Mauna Loa in the sky.


Bamboo poles drying four months.

Today: cut three, 32 inches long,

bottom cuts just below a joint

for strength.

Lay them side by side.

Lash them at the centers

and twist them

to a double ended tripod

wide enough to sit on.

Stand it upright.

Tie one cord from top to top,

limiting the poles

from spreading farther.

Hawaiians made rope from

the inner fibers of Olona,

grown and tended for the purpose;

fishnets lasted fifty years;

Swiss mountain climbers bought

all they could. I use nylon

from Ace Hardware—

not as good, cheaper.

Weave a seat attached

to the top cord.

Straighten legs and tie to backpack.

Sit by Pu'u Hue.


Stool very pretty, but

bamboo too thin.



Back on ground,

feet in air,

blue sky.



Staying alive,


your thoughts,

hard work.


let your tears fall,

like rain

on Pu'u Hue.



On the ridge, coffee

behind an empty dump truck

rocking in the wind.

Ahead, gray in showers:

Pu'u Hue, full belly,

and the breasts

of Lahikiola;

chi chi mountain woman

on her back,

relaxing in the rain.



Sunny, windy,

the heraldry of roosters,

on the way to Pu'u Hue.

Higher: clouds, driving rain,

white egrets lined along

a green hillside,

still as markers

at a veterans' cemetery.

Grazing Herefords,

Brangus, Baldies,

red and black,

moving slowly;

calves chase each other,

break away, return;

a cream-colored stallion,

dappled dark,

gallops to the herd,

kicking up his heels,

grass rippling and running

before him.



Rain. Wind.

Half a mile away, Pu'u Hue,

rounded, iron gray

lightening to platinum

with a green cast,

turning silver,

now translucent, glowing.

Sun! Grass!

More clouds

trail scarves of mist


the darkening top.



“Let's blow the conch shell,

gather together,

address the problem!”

They were talking

about hard drugs in Kohala.

Four hundred years ago

it might have been:

who would take from Pu'u Hue.

In the Han Dynasty,

when Jesus staggered

beneath his cross,

only birds sang here.

If we forget the conch,

only birds will remain

by Pu'u Hue,


sinking slowly.



Light breeze, clouds billow easily

over the mountain.

After the rain,

I thought the cattle would be frisky,

but they are lying down, resting

for their own reasons.

Pu'u Hue seems smaller

in the clear air.

Passing clouds obscure

the farther mountains,

and Pu'u Hue grows—

land's end—

pale green

before white and gray.

From every angle, different.

From every distance

and in every weather,

different. No can capture,

only praise

Pu'u Hue.



Silent night, 

Holy night ... 

standing in the Kohala Diner,

surprised by Christmas,

surrendering to the music,


longing for love,

hoping for peace,


Pu'u Hue far above,





Early sun,

green fields,

a black horse grazes

in the shadow

of a eucalyptus.

A pinto, black and white,

moves toward me, eyes clear,

pale blue-gray,

the sea off Scotland.

We talk.

On the ridge, vog

creeps up from Kona.

West of Pu'u Hue

the water is quiet,

shining dully.

Once, on the shore

of San Juan Island,

I said to Terry, Shannon's mom,

“How beautiful!”

“Yes,” she said. And then,

“Every place is beautiful.”



Over the water,

vog reflected,

merges with itself,

obscures the horizon.

Sky pale blue,

a smaller, calmer world.

Between the passage of

trucks and cars,

the drone of bees

on tiny yellow flowers,

vertical purple

blossoms, roadside weeds;

birds chitter and call

across the meadow;

a bull bellows, far away.

The news is good

from Pu'u Hue.



Old friends now, Pu'u Hue.

Where the fence crosses over

like stitching, probably

one day will be

an executive ranch house,

for show, a medal

pinned on a green hat.

We can laugh about it.

Joke about my cane.

All things change.

Farewell, my friend,

we will meet again

as we have met before

in different forms,

knowing each other

lovers of sun and rain

and wind, transients

in the eternal.



In the darkening harbor,

turning back,

up, over a wave

before it curls

against the breakwater,

glimmer of silver

draining from rocks,

brown skin, black hair,

knees bent, arms alert,

again and again,

until night—

one red light, one green,

the Pacific,




The Emperor of Kindness

Rasta Man, young,

eyes bridging OneSoul

to you and me,

Rasta Man with pretty wife

and laughing clutching child,

alone on his bicycle,

pedaling silently.

Dark, thin, Rasta Man.

Doves call.

A rooster cracks the air.

Last night

a familiar face returned—

tender, determined, weathered

as a mask left out

to guard the village.

She was not the favorite child;

no one gave her the presents

she needed; she was true to all,

invisible herself. Impossible

not to love her.

In my dream she was happy,

a new job in a lonely territory.

I was proud of her.

I was whole again, relieved

of the pain I caused her.

Walking down this mountain,

the Pacific spreads before you

flattening time; your past

ripples with each footstep

as though it were confined

to the island, as though

you had always been here.

Dozens of bees swerve by,

leaving, returning to

a hollow ironwood.

Wild pigs in the gulch,

hunted on the ridge

with horses and dogs.


Sweet scent of ginger.

Humpback whales migrate

here each winter;

the first was sighted yesterday.

Down by Nanbu Courtyard

a garden spider waits

at the center of its web,

bright yellow,

big as a blossom.

Joe Rodriguez tells me

about Rasta Man:

“You know who he is,

really? He is

the Emperor of Kindness.”



At Akiko's Mochi Pounding

“Good House has another meaning

in Japan. Means: in a better

part of town.

Maybe, Blessed House?”



Shigeko becomes calm,

brush held straight

above the paper.

Her first stroke,


establishes proportion.

Wet black lines

follow faster,

idea infusing ink,

ink becoming sign

alive with

heart and mind.

She pauses—

tapered bristles

lower, flatten, draw out,

and lift,

characters and moment



Big Island


Two women,

comfortably sixty,

“Oh, we see you

all da time walking.

Every day. We say:

look how straight he walk.

Straight walker!”

“Too old to bend over is why,”

I say. We laughing.

Only later I realize

what they have given me.

I am Straight Walker.



In the Kohala Diner,

“Dat buggah jury rigged,”

“watering the weeds,”

“horses dey get da good stuff,”

“he is more to me

than my other brothers,”

“you have him

a little longer yet,”

“My boys going to Iraq.

I tell them: do your job

but don't turn your back,”

words rising, diving,

wheeling like white birds

at sunset, baring

the meaning above

the meaning,

this music

sung from birth,

laughing, judging,



Nechung Temple

Salmon-orange roof,

blue trim,

a stand of eucalyptus,

a stone Buddha,

quiet rain.

A tall palm flexes slowly.

Prayer flags on horizontal strings


green, yellow, red, white, blue.

Small gardens, moss rock walls,

herbs, bananas,

flowering bushes.

A carved turtle glides

over a boulder.

The light leaves upward,

to the west.

Upside down, clinging

to a crimson blossom,

a tiny bird, wings

the color of bay leaves;

it could have ridden

in my shirt pocket,

flown from my chest.


Pebble Walk

for Dane

Rust black a'a, so jagged,

you throw a piece,

twenty minutes to pick it up.

A single line of gray stones

undulates across,

wave smoothed, chosen

for a flat side,

passed hand to hand

from inlets

battered into sea cliffs,

each one carefully set,

large enough

to bear a foot,

bear a load,

for centuries.


Petroglyphs, Ka'u

On this pahoehoe,

dark, weathered, cracks

curving along least resistance—

I speak with straight lines.

Until this island sinks below

the water, or Pele angers,

you will know how long time

we live here, how many were lost

to the fighting, to the sea.

What I say is: how beautiful

are our women, and today,

I have a son.

Praying with Tiapala

Sweet smoky incense,

golden Buddha overlooking

offerings of fruit and flowers,

Tiapala chanting, face

like a mountain

above tree line,

a lifetime, a thousand years

intoning prayers and sutras,

as a dolphin leaps or

a cloud drifts,

singing the way.

We join and follow,

swaying slightly in rhythm,

becoming slowly

what we pray for.

Tiapala strikes a gong—

pure sound vibrates

into birdsong, evening,

the deep welcome

of Mauna Loa.

On Mauna Loa

Earth trembling,

water every side,

brown rock pure,

so high,

clouds upslope,

green below.


dipping line of red, a cardinal

flies deeper into

macadamia orchard.

Three locals,

truck and chainsaw,

steal koa from

haole newcomers.

Across the valley,

a temple bell,

struck by hand,

calls us

to compassion.

No Need Say Goodbye

Soft May morning,

spent clouds drift

to sea,

birds singing

in trees,

on telephone wires.

A roadside bank

of nasturtiums

glows red and orange.

Cows graze

far up the mountain,

tiny dots—

how can you say goodbye

when all things

are changing?

Roads. Faces.

Only the deep heart

is constant;

and to that,

no need say goodbye.



Scatter my ashes,


on Mauna Loa

at the tree line,

where ohia cling

to gray brown rock,

and the apapane flies

in bright air,

red wings

to red blossom.

I will go there

with my last thought

and wait happily

in all weather.

Shannon & Clara

breastfeeding at 4000 feet,

gray spired rock,

Douglas Fir clinging

to the ridge.

Sunlight on a fallen trunk,

moss, dark bark,

rotting sapwood

salmon red,

mother & daughter

three weeks old,

breathing in

the breath of trees.

Mt. Pilchuk,


Handball, West 4th Street

for Alan

Playground, cement wall, warm day,

men & women crowded against

a chain link fence, watching

three Latinos and a white guy

between gray lines.

Big men.

Gold jewelry, shorts, cut-off T-shirts;

one slighter, bare chested, long arms.

White guy: beefy, no neck, broad

rubbery shoulders.

“C'mon Ricky!” The one with skin like

glistening walnut goes still, crouches,

serves deep.

The white guy returns, fast off the wall,

picked clean in the air by Ricky's partner,

exploding back, smashed, grunt, ball wide—

point, Ricky's team.

“C'mon, go crazy, Ricky!”

“Another comeback,” somebody says.

Ricky serves—players shift, both hands

left, right, left, like heavyweights,

sickeningly hard. White guy's partner

hits low to the corner; Superman

couldn't have gotten to it.

Heads shake, drink from bottles.

Ricky closes on his partner, directs him,

slaps his arm.

“17-15,” the ref says, thin, older,

face impassive under a baseball hat.

He squeezes the blue ball,

throws it twice easily against the wall,

checks it again, tosses it to the white guy.

No one talks.

Serve goes to Ricky, hit back at white guy

too fast to see, let alone dodge. White guy pivots

like a bullfighter, somehow blocks it soft and low.

Ricky's partner goes slow motion

full length on the cement, can't reach it.


White guy sneers, serves fast at Ricky,

challenging. Ricky drops it to the other guy.

Weak return. Ricky's partner puts it away.

Back and forth.

Ricky hits a winner, exhales, pounds

his chest three times with the ball,

looks up at a cloudy sky,

then ties, 20 all, with a lucky bounce.

“Only fucking way you win,” white guy shouts.

“Ricky don't speak English,” a watcher calls out.

Ricky walks a tight circle, small smile,

let him talk, give the man something.

Lethal blur, percussion, shoes squeak, over

suddenly. Ricky's team wins.

He pumps one arm.

No taunts. No regret.

People nod, satisfied.

Faces shine.

New York

Three Lives

Sisters, 94 and 81,

late afternoon sun turns

a small backyard gold and green.

Brown birds flit from fence top

to pine woods and back.

A butterfly pauses.

Death and life—

transparent tapestry

in quiet air,

glittering and splendid.

The next summer

I shoveled the first dirt

on Ad's grave.

Then Rosy's mother died.

We never properly said goodbye,

but it had already been done, there

in Ad's yard in Poulsbo, Washington,

three lives come

to a curtain of sun

on a fence.

The Day I Threw Out My Journals

(5 thirty gallon trash bags / 45 years)


the African Future,

high in the water,

through the drawbridge.

By the museum

on Congress Street,

a man beats time

with drumsticks

on his boot sole.

A wagon holding a dog,

a boy, and pastel chalks

waits outside

a coffee shop.

Behind them,

pink and blue lines,

an arms width apart,

trail and curve along

the sidewalk.



Zero Self

Incense smoke


like a swimmer

to the surface,

rolling face

to the sun.


the window:


a maple tree,

city streets.

Dreams, regret,


whispered words,

stepped away from,

colors folded

on the curb.


Ice grains spinning,

swirling, filling,

scouring brick, leaving

nothing untested. Walk

or freeze

or stay inside.

The panhandler with

an artificial leg

lurches slowly

up the sidewalk. Usually

I avoid him.

Today, I

take off my gloves

to find a dollar;

he takes off his gloves

to receive it, grunting,

a warm sound

blown instantly away,


my own begging heart.


On The Road To Dharamsala

Goat bells: muffled,

low pitched.

Quick high whistles

in thin air, cheerful,


a complete music

unscored, for

goats, herders,

new pasture,

cliffs, sun &

melting snow.

Himachal Pradesh,

Goods Carrier, HP296054

Massive, mythic, snorting,

overbearing, importuning,

Gods protect, get out

of the way, gold, red,

orange and black,

silver metal doors,

flags, pennants, tassels,

hanging chains, black longhorns

painted on the radiator,

padded steering wheel

in dim fringed interior

high over the hood,

demon truck

carrying goods and hope

through villages,

along gorges, around

blind curves.


Three Movements


Tiny dash of turquoise

across the valley,

eighth of an inch

moving quickly down

a bare ridge,

path curving by paddies,

steep brushy hillsides,

rocky stream below,

brown with run-off.

Barely visible

in front of her,

back & forth—

a dog?

Fifteen hundred feet lower,

she reaches the bluff, turns,

and walks downstream

to a fallow terrace

where she sits, waiting,

bright dot on lush green.


Monsoon cloud truncates

green mountains;

occasional rain, the stream

a ribbon of ochre

far below.

Late afternoon,

movement north,

clouds break

around Moonpeak,

two miles above us—

gray, inaccessible,

keeper of dreams,

thousands of years.

Pas de Deux

Sunset moves up

the Dhauladhar—

rock brightens

to bronze; light

crossing from the west

sharpens fluted ridges,

casts vertical shadows,

pas de deux,

earth and fire,

last touch

before night.



Kamal drunk, declaiming

by his brick two-room house,

one up, one under for the cows,

high over the valley.

He drinks his army pension,

works the rest of the month

with his wife and teenaged sons.

“They beat me,” he tells us.

“I haven't eaten in 48 hours;

I have a very bad wife.”

He is stronger than any of them.

His wife is loving. Strange.

He raves into the night

for hours using practiced

dramatic gestures,

pausing to sing, pacing

back and forth.

I asked Mickey what

the Hindi words meant.

“It's all bullshit,” he said.

Yes, Kamal

is acting badly again—


indignant, angry

to the point of violence,

long hands pleading

in the moonlight.

McLeod Ganj

Study of an Oil

A Tibetan mother

pours hot milk into a bowl

held with both hands

by a young boy.

They stand in a dark room

by an open fire,

both warmly dressed—

he in blue shirt and

knee length leather vest,

she in faded red tunic,

long brown skirt and apron.

They are bent toward each other,

intent on not spilling.

Pale light from a window or door

touches the back of his vest,

the top of his hair, her face,

the stream of milk.

Outside, unseen:

mountains, snow,

the biting pure air

of the Himalayas.

signed: Sodhon La 2006.04

McLeod Ganj


Eggshell, broken edges,

smooth inner surface,

empty, clean.

In Botswana,

Eleanor tells me,

ostrich eggs are used

to carry water.

This one is for tears.

“Our Dad will fix it,”

Rosy reassured Ono, the cat.

But I left.

Standing in the doorway

of a refugee house,

a Tibetan girl hopes

for a father,

considers me, appealing

with her eyes,

mouth held

against disappointment.

Beggars sell humanity

for a rupee;

nothing buys back

innocence or trust.


McLeod Ganj

Early Morning, McLeod Ganj

The Spirit Seekers leave

in mighty Jeeps;

a small dog yelps, jumps sideways;

old Tibetans smile and pray,

walking daily kora. The caravan

roars toward another temple

or perhaps to Delhi for

return to the West.

As they pass, you

can see them putting words

in place, rehearsing stories.

The engines fade. We hear

small sounds far and wide,

the singing. Young girls

nudge shoulders, gazelles

on the Serengeti.


Youdon Meets Her Former Roommate

Behind the Japanese Restaurant

After a Long Separation

Standing close,

saying almost nothing,

pure horses, sensing.

Both slim, straight,

twenty years old, Tibetan

long black hair, dark eyes.

Between them, sparkles,

a clear smoke,

as of diamonds.

Gray concrete deck,

a few empty tables,

the mountain

partially obscured by cloud.

McLeod Ganj


London, 5 a.m.,

dove & copper,


a hint of rain.

I can board a plane,

but I cannot

leave myself behind.

In India,

a billion people sleep

sharing beds, floors,

makeshift shelters,


Primary colors

call in the dark;

leopards and snakes

move silently.

In the morning,

on Khanyara Road,  a man

covered with soap suds,

sitting on his heels,

bathes from a bucket;

a young woman in a turquoise

kameez sways by

balancing eight bricks on her head;

a group of boys, blue pants,

white shirts, blue ties,

laugh and chatter, arm in arm

on their way to school;

an old woman, stumps for hands,

begs mutely, smiles,

brown eyes glowing;

beneath an umbrella, a quiet man

breaks rock for road fill

using a hand sledge and chisel.

All look at you. No one

is afraid.

You join them,

stepping farther from your

fortress of dreams

with each exchange:



Woman Standing on Sunny Sidewalk


for her high cheek bones,

straight nose, long jaw.

A painter

for her short blonde hair,

the clear green of her eyes,

white teeth, wind-touched skin.

A fiddle for spirit and melancholy.

A dancer for the slim body

that, at 50, could dive and swing.

A magician with cupped hands

and a flourish of scarf

to make her sadness


Peaks Island,


Molly Running on Black Rock

Red-brown white blur,

legs flying too fast to see,

streak of color and purpose,

all delight, short-sighted,

big-hearted, chasing her

next need. Waves collapse

on shore. The long curve

where blue meets blue

takes you too far out

to stay for long, only

endings and beginnings

there, no fruit trees,

no lights of home, no

short-haired pointer

running free.

Peaks Island

Vikas Kumar writes from India

“You have told me about your Island I never been any

Island even never saw the Sea, So when I emagin

of Sea and Island I fill with joy.”

Two, Then Three

Snow, wind,

slate gray sea,

northeaster coming.

Two crows feed

on frozen sumac.

They fly to a dead spruce,

joined by a third,

facing different directions,

puffing their feathers,

eyes scanning.

One springs up,

a few wing strokes,

a tilt of its head,

soaring across the road.

Two, then three

swerve freely over the marsh,

black trails vanishing,


the roar of waves.

Peaks Island

Preparing Croissants

Atsuko, hands

working quickly,

black hair pulled behind

slim neck,

one long lock falling

before her right eye,

wide mouth. The

cream colored dough

will brown—calm,

disciplined, tasting

of sunrise.

Standard Baking,




below zero,

coffee & muffin

in Peaks Cafe,

no one talking much,

sea smoke,

fine black branches

flex slowly

in a paling sky,

chickadees, crows

hunt for food,

deer and people



Peaks Island

Lion's Mane

Our loves,

by death

and divergence,

one by one

we lose them.

Each leaves

a color

loosely woven

with the others,


our naked shoulders,

a lion's mane—

precious, radiant,

with us

to the end.

Lunch at Anthony's

Below sidewalk level,

between a movie rental business

and a music store,

blues harp & keyboard,

easygoing jazz,

accountants, secretaries,

mailmen laughing

at small things,

smells of eggplant Parmesan,

marinara sauce.

A few tables.

A takeout line.

You have to know

about the place

to be here.


Hoot's Triumph

In front of The News Shop, glistening,

green, chrome, black leather,

throbbing at rest—

Hoot's Triumph,

ready for the road,

5:30, a summer morning,

cool and gray.

Hoot finished his coffee,

held one hand up,

revved the bike twice,

and took off.

He was heading for Denver,

bringing his wife home

after a separation. What,

1500 miles from Woodstock?

Earsplitting. He accelerated

flat out past the green, around

the corner at a 45 degree lean,

down the long hill, shifting

all the way.

We listened, mouths open;

he must have been going a hundred

at the bottom.

“There goes Hoot,” someone said,


That was in '66—Vietnam,

lies, waste, the cultural partitioning,

the beginning of the decline

of the U.S.A. Worse now.

But, we can rebuild.

Hoot got his wife back. And,

as they say in the mountains,

“He did it right.”

American Buddhas

At Hodgman's Frozen Custard:

two Harleys, side by side

pointing opposite directions,

front wheels nosing inwards,

gleaming spokes, bulging fenders,

pin-striped fuel tanks,

riders leaning back

on mighty thrones under

a summer evening sky,


shy as bears,

broad whiskery faces,

licking raspberry cones.

New Gloucester,



Each morning,

in a small courtyard

across the alley,

a teenager walks

slowly back and forth

reading a schoolbook

or manual,

repeating phrases

in rhythm with

the peaceful movement

of her legs through shade;

she turns as a line

of Bach turns,

defining old ground

newly, dark hair

bumping gently

on her cotton shirt.



Still Life Flowing

A steep thirty meter gulch:

large rocks, tipped, exposed,

balanced on each other.

Brown dirt fringed

with weeds, tiny flowers,

sapphires for a week.


chiseled into flat surfaces,

painted white, green,

yellow, blue, red.

Plants, prayer, mountain,

flowing to the sea.

Jogibara Road,

McLeod Ganj


Karma or

a hand of cards—

thirty years

to clear away

sadness and abuse.

Now you smile

the beautiful smile

of what is,

nothing excluded,

nothing false;

and I am

inexplicably set free,

on the Dharma path

able to be plain.

McLeod Ganj

For Kalsang

When I see the moon

and think of you

in sunshine, I will jump

up and down!

Your feet will laugh,

no world between us.

McLeod Ganj

Kamal Repents at Dawn

Cross-legged on his roof,

rubbing his face briskly,

extending long arms,

circling his wrists,

Kamal surveys the valley.

A devotional chorus issues

from a loudspeaker below.

At the solo, he

begins to sing; his voice

reaches and spreads

throughout the settlement.

Slowly, musically,

suffering is forgiven;

blame becomes blessing;

Kamal repents.


I work from the outside in. Each poem is an attempt to see more clearly. When I think of you reading them, seeing in your imagination what I saw, reacting in your own way, it is as though you were standing next to me. This is why I write.


On The Road To Dharamsala
John Moncure Wetterau

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