Why beautiful things are said to be breathtaking,
and why books need dust jackets to keep the dust off,
or what the name is for those long, stringy filaments
            on a banana beneath the peel—
these were a few of the thoughts straying
           through my mind
as we drove along the winding country road
past sway-backed barns and old silos
and rusted windmills whose bent blades the wind
            had long since vanquished.

I was glad I was not driving,
the better to gaze wherever I pleased
and let my thoughts meander in a daze
            of passing thoughts intermixed with memories.

Meander, I thought.
I turned to look at the beautiful meadow stream
that looped around like a blue ribbon
            winding itself among the placid cows.
The way the creek had carved itself into the soil,
the water flowing ten feet to move ahead just one,
so fantastically did the stream bed loop
            and turn and wind around…
the way this stream had engraved itself upon the ground
seemed a kind of perplexity and understanding
           all in one.

Speeding along the ribbon of road, my nose close
           to the window glass,
I watched the meander of my thoughts spilling
           across the countryside,
a snaking, sinuous, serpentine stream looping and winding
            crazily across a field,
leaving almost-islands of grass circumscribed nearly
            all the way around
by the flighty flow of water following some invisible
            pathway implicit in the land.

Passing another red-barned farm, I gazed
            at the companionable pond,
a pool of thoughts and memories beside the house,
            reflecting the sky.
Pond, I thought. Ponder. Mean, meaning, meander.
Meander—not quite a rhyme with ponder—
actually not at all.
Ponder—to think deeply, deeply—
deep as a pond, deep as an ocean
            if thoughts were water,
water carried by clouds, released as rain,
wandering back to the sea in rivulets, creeks,
            brooks, streams, and rivers,
the rain washing the dust from the air,
the same dust that dust jackets keep from settling
            on our words….

We turned this way and that on the winding country road,
following the ribbon of black snaking over the hills,
the sonorous trills of songbirds igniting the spring,
the book I was reading yet not so much reading
            as simply holding in my lap,
the hinge of its spine cradled in my hand,
the pages with their labyrinth of words calling to
            my window eyes.

We passed another pasture stream that looped around
            a stately stand of oaks,
etching its blue upon the cow-cropped greensward.
Beautiful, I thought, beautiful—and I thought about
            my breath—
tried to notice if the beauty was stealing my breath—
and it was or seemed to be, at least a little.

Yes, beautiful things are said to be breathtaking
            because they make you stop breathing—
take your breath.
If you stop breathing long enough, you will die—
            die of beauty, I suppose.
But you do remember—to breathe, that is.
You do remember, and so you live,
the beauty passing by or wearing off
while you peel a second banana, then pull away
            those stringy filaments with your fingernail,
not knowing their name but wondering,
and turn back to your book whose dust jacket
            keeps slipping off,
allowing the invisible, opportunistic dust
time to settle like snow
on the leafless winter shrubbery
            of our words.

—Timothy Walsh, Madison, WI