Beautiful Defacement


It was as if I had ‘an itch that I couldn’t scratch.’ How many times have I heard that, said this, thinking I knew what it meant. Today I learned, as I scrambled out of the house, half-wild and needy, heading into the lower hills jus’ to the west of us for some quiet time and to perhaps hike some of the shorter game trails.

You can always tell that they are game trails. Rarely is there scat, the trail is clean of dead fall and scrub grasses and never goes over large rocks, always around. I love to explore these trails to see where they lead, up or down the hillside, often to water or a shade of tree, also a sign of water.

But this time I found a clearing off the side of this trail. I followed it in as it had none of the ear-marks of being made my coyotes, rabbits or deer. This one was all wrong and I figured it to be human made and I was right as it lead to the butte of a 20-foot slab of stone, a flat in the hillside where large chunks had fallen to the ground.

Oddly, I noted, someone had taken the time to clear the base of this small cliff of the majority of the bits and pieces of rock that had fallen, which once I was standing next to it I learned that it sloped forward slightly, protecting it from the rain, snow and tumbling stone. As I drew closer, I saw that their were words etched in the facing.

Amazing! I had to step back so I could read it, an untitled maverick poem I think, and though badly faded by age and environment this is what I think is scratched into this certain place:

The censorship is not tongued!
The censorship is exceptionally inarticulate.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the censorship,
Gently it goes, the walk-on, the inarticulate, the nonspeaking.
I saw the greed, my generation destroyed,
How I mourned the excess.
Does the excess make you shiver?
Does it?
When I think of the happiness, I feel alive.
Does the happiness make you shiver?
Does it?

– HS Smith Aug 1932 Tenn.

As I sit in my room, typing out the words I transcribed into my notebook, I can’t help think of another ‘HS.’ This one being Han-Shan or maybe Hanshan, and who lived during China’s Tang Dynasty, and who wrote his poems on rocks around the caves in which he lived.

Makes me wonder if Smith were a ‘student’ of this long-ago poet. I also must beware that it could be an absolute fraud, words carved more recently than the etchings claim. If it is genuine, it’s a year older than my dad would be if he were still living, and if truly genuine, I wish I could slip into Smith’s mind to fully understand what was happening in his world.

Anyway, I shall not divulge this spot, this sand stone marvel, real or fake. And since I did not have my camera on me, I did not get any photos of it. I have found a lot of things in the high desert, but this beats most of them and leaves me blown away.

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