My ambition is truly limited to a few clods of earth,
some sprouting wheat, an olive grove.
-Vincent Van Gogh
For weeks there is no poetry.
Months. There are the same songs
surrounding rhythms we call work,
the sense upon waking of something to begin,
the sense that sleep is a calculated concession to weakness.
And then, driving east in the winter morning,
you find sunlight on wet marshes and machinery,
a gathering of birds.
This is not about beauty.
At night before meals we take silence,
our hands encircling what cannot be said.
Not beauty but vastness.
The black winter creek through pillows of snow.
The wild fox before dawn loping down wet roads,
passing under streetlights, then gone.
Winner of the Oxford University Review’s 2013 Poetry Competition: Ambition by American Rhodes Scholar Willy Oppenheim.
I took the photograph while with my dad watching the sun rise over the summit of the Mauna Kea Observatories on the Big Island of Hawai’i. When the picture was exhibited at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts a few years ago, I called it A Car at the End of the World, a title I still like.