A broken moon on the cold water,
And wild geese crying high overhead,
The smoke of the campfire rises
Toward the geometry of heaven -
Points of light in the infinite blackness.
I watch across the narrow inlet
Your dark figure comes and goes before the fire.
A loon cries out on the night bound lake.
Then all the world is silent with the
Silence of autumn waiting for
The coming of winter. I enter
The ring of firelight, bringing to you
A string of trout for our dinner.
As we eat by the whispering lake,
I say, "Many years from now we will
Remember this night and talk of it."
Many years have gone by since then, and
Many years again. I remember
That night as though it was last night,
But you have been dead for thirty years.
Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) was a major figure in American poetry and an important influence on the Beat Poets and the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance of the 1950s and '60s. A notable essayist and important translator from the Chinese and Japanese, he was a pacifist, a conscientious objector during World War II, and a zealous political progressive. Rexroth, who lived for many years in San Francisco and spent his later years in Santa Barbara, often celebrates in his poetry the grandeur of the California Coast Range. "Your Birthday in the California Mountains" was written in memory of Rexroth's first wife, the painter Andrée Schafer, whom he married in 1927 and who died in 1940. It is from The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth, edited by Sam Hamill and Bradford Morrow, published by Copper Canyon Press, and is reprinted by permission.