All Roads
by Bryan R. Monte

For Ronald Linder (1930-2004)

All roads lead to the same place
We said laughing to each other
Listening to John Cage on the car radio
That Presidents’ Day Weekend, unbelievers
Lost in the sudden, spring-green Olema Hills
Looking for the Vedanta Retreat
The day after we heard the bald, brown
Orange-robed swami chant
OM – Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
OM – Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
In his peach socks and brown wingtips
And say: The teacher is the student
and the student, the teacher
And suddenly we exchanged places
Fathers and sons to one another
My arm swelling strangely from your tetanus shot
My ex-lover barricaded in the back bedroom
Coughing through Christmas with pneumocystis
As we read poems at my kitchen table
About lunch counter dinners and interstate abductions
Your mother’s monthly suicide threats
Or the iron block on the door lock
Your father reamed with a $20 bill
Until your family disappeared in the middle of the night
Your brother laughing at the landlord
Your parti-coloured books left behind
On the shelf over the radiator.

The years we gave to those who never loved us
The years we lost to those who never knew us
Borrowing money for textbooks, going without meals
Sleeping on the sofa or the floor
Working weekends, school breaks, summer vacations
Watching the smiling, tanned, college men with their dates
Rush out of the stadium after the game
As we rode the bus home from another Saturday shift
Arms still twitching for typing contracts or mopping floors
To pay the tuition, to the earn the diploma, to get permission
To make the endless daily rounds with maddening precision
From nursing home to hospital to office
From insurance company to night school to students’ homes
The 9.30 PM private English lessons
The 3 AM hospital admissions
The booze, the drugs, the invisible armies
Under the skin that carried our friends away
The paperwork glaciers that froze out our poetry
Then buried, ground up and wore away the years
Cannot be undone no matter how carefully we turn
On these steep, green hills above the Pacific Ocean
Breaking beneath us or ask the swami for directions
OM – Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
OM – Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
He chants as we sit and wait to go home.