To Be Guided

by Caitlin Dwyer 

Magnetic north and the whisk
Of wind outside the tent.

In search not of compass bearings,
But their opposites: where not to go, when
To walk away.

The key is distinguishing sides. The bad guys
Have greasy hair and scars. The good guys
Have soft hands, make reluctant saviors.
I want to follow the one that leads
Like a dancer to his partner, barely
But inevitably tethered.

Coordinates easily calculated:
Box step, 3/4 beat. Make small squares
With clumsy feet, guiding the space
Until it fills:

Two bodies
Or a single body. Either way I am being led,
Am leading.
What I’m asking for is help.

I took the night’s bearing
Woke with iron in my nose.
A pale new star shattered on the floorboards.
We say we do not need good guys but
Someone has to stand in front with a drawn sword.

The body as sundial. Count off
Four five six. It’s possible to triangulate
In the desert using only stars: from where
Does the light fall onto the sand like
Silk reams,
And what does it tell us about how and who

To follow: (when used with an object) to accept as guide,
to give allegiance.

(When missing an object)
To occur as consequence.

Last night a constellation-map
Of unfamiliar heroes.
Today, feet over sun-slicks.
Count off: north south east. Piles of folded
Light. All these dunes shapeshifting beneath.
Where not to walk: anywhere but toward
That unflinching point.



Photo credit: Bryan Rupp Photography

Caitlin Dwyer is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She lived for three years in China and graduated with a master’s in journalism from the University of Hong Kong in 2013. Her poetry has appeared in Thrush, the Beloit Poetry Journal, Beetroot, the Cider Press Review, Notre Dame Review, InDigest, Quiddity, and others.  She has written for a range of publications, including Creative Nonfiction, The Big Roundtable, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Asian Review of Books, and Buddhistdoor Global, where she is a columnist.  One of her essays is forthcoming in the collection Becoming a Teacher, published by In Fact Books. Learn more at