No one who did not have to
would stay in the heaving sepia
roar of the unlit depot hour
after hour as some do
shoved and elbowed in the hot
breath of a rotting mouth yet there are
women sitting on the cement floor
suckling babies and among

the shoes that are never still
down under the shouting and the thin
flickering of hands burning and
going out there are some
of all ages sleeping as they
wait to be overtaken and to
wake at their time and find themselves housed
in white boards on the bench

of the almost empty car
while outside the gray windows that face
into the cooked air of the city
they see close beside them
a new life with afternoon light
shimmering as though reflected from
water along the dusty walls and
on green weeds glittering

then already before the
walls begin to slip there are the square
pieces of color in the tan
sky skipping and soaring
those small kites with invisible strings
that will beckon as guides for
so much of the way reappearing
over the first vacant

rubble fields and the children
running with raised arms in the distance
then over the scalped hill with its
family of shadows
breathless against the sky looking up
to the spirits dancing far
above them that must feel like their own
appearing to need no

wind at all to be leaping
high above the white layer of smoke
that covers what is called the world
and to be waiting with
others above the dark trees beyond
a ringing bridge a river
too slow to be real a path along
the low bank through the shade

and they keep turning to look
down from their clearer place onto roofs
at the rims of green terraces
braided houses a man
by himself planting while the hens on
the dump smoking at the end
of a lane search among waving ghosts
of translucent plastic

and all the way to the hills
and into the mountains the kites will be
watching from their own element
as long as the light lasts
neither living as the living know
of it nor dead with the dead
and neither leaving nor promising
the hands hope for them


"Kites" from TRAVELS by W.S. Merwin, copyright © 1992 by W.S. Merwin. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.