The Kiso Road

Kiso: clear as a bell among the mountains.
Write me, the river says. Witness the road beside me.

The clouds are still tonight. The sky is smoke-blackened
but the fires are cold. Time claims the haiku.
The children grow and leave and do not come back.
The temple floor is charmed though: each step across it
stirs another nightingale to song

At dawn, an old dog fox breaks the hermetic line
of the field, holding in his mouth a stone
of nothingness to lay at the shrine

He sniffs the violet air as if to confirm a thought.
Go and come back, the fox says,
Watching where you slide the day open.

Write me, the forest says, cypress, pine and cedar,
as if the road were blocks of ink, the mist a white brush
wet with the river and the air were paper
partitioning you from the dead.

The road asks for nothing, remembering
the curve of your life as trees remember the rocks and stones.
The fields are damp with story. Metaphor drips
from autumn’s leaves.

Go and come back, the poets say.
Bridges burn by torchlight; the barriers are where we meet
shuffled together on our different travels, lives
and languages weaving together like the long dry grass
of a sparrow’s nest or a ball of cedar hanging
in the street at night.

Rest your feet, traveller,
Watch the swallow’s flight through the mountains

Go and come back, the book says:
We’ll meet at the gate of the morning.



Mathew Lyons is a London-based writer. He is the author of three books of non-fiction: Impossible Journeys, The Favourite and There and Back Again. His poems have been published by Dawn Treader, Visual Verse and Nine Muses. He has also contributed to a wide range of publications, from History Today to The Quietus.