“Gateway” by Charles Cantalupo

At a beginning I saw both death and life in the gateway.
Death didn’t stay, so I went through, but now I’ve come back again.
Seeing death has come back, too, I don’t know if life ever left.

What if the gateway reveals itself more than either of them?
What if the universe wants it not only to live or die,
One pillar newly restored, the other left original?

What if the green in the gateway moves through every color
Into a black and white nowhere near as still but shimmering
Always as much more than any expectations first of less?

What is that mantra?  That “pass me by, pass me by” whistling
Like my new mantra the gateway keeps on singing to the world
On one condition; the world would come back – no way it could not.

Don’t ask me how; ask the gateway.  Go by its vision not mine:
Like the proverbial sailor’s grave found deep in lonely woods….
“Pass me by, pass me by,” I hear, walking to the rocky shore.

What if no foothold there joins the gateway’s ocean of language  
To the horizon until there’s no horizon anymore?
One sheet of sky and sea?  Nothing to distinguish but twelve notes

Out of invisible waves in fog the gateway beckons through?  
Faintly fluorescent, a signature of “work” etched on its arch?
What other gifts of God could I ask for more than to be asked?

Thinking performance and force, who’s not wiped out at the gateway?
Who doesn’t die in the storm without the notes within the notes,
Words within words, and the rhythms in the rhythms’ person of

Person?  How else not to stay and keep on loving the gateway?
Loving the music between the knowing and the unknowing?
Each time a word appears for the music.  Listen. It changes,

Changes, and changes.  The words line up and fall.   Each time a
Story appears for the music, hear it change and change again.
Every story lines up and falls.  Each time a rhythm plays –

Is it too short or too long? – the music changes and changes.  
Every rhythm lines and up falls.  Each time a meaning drifts
Out of the music, it changes, making every meaning

Line up and fall.  Yet each time an expectation arises
Out of the music, it changes.  Each expectation
Lines up and falls.  Or if hope for something stirs with the music,

How could it not change when it has changed so many times before?
Hopes line up also and fall.   What couldn’t be broken pieces
Come to the gateway?  I come here, too, maybe dreaming

How they work all at once.  Stop, then work again. Stop.  Work and start
Falling and falling and falling, and I’m nothing but silent.
Only the joy and the silliness of it – with some waltz, too –

Might let me speak of it later, when I’m marching and marching,
One foot in front of the other but in my mind always somewhere
Falling and falling, not thinking of the end but of that gateway.   


Charles Cantalupo is the author of three books of poetry, three books of translations of Eritrean poetry, four books of literary criticism ranging from Thomas Hobbes to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and a memoir, Joining Africa — from Anthills to Asmara.  Two of his most recent books are Where War Was – Poems and Translations from Eritrea (Mkuki na Nyota) and Non-Native Speaker:  Selected and Sundry Essays (Africa World Press).  Co-author of the historic Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures, he is a Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and African Studies.