Alan: A journal-poem of a long day-hike in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The poem keeps my memory of it vivid, even if eventually – like all peak experiences – it slipped into a lower register, tarnished a little in the retelling.
1. Jenny Lake
Under the weatherproof lid, a notebook on a chain and a stubby
pencil to write down where you are going in case you need help.
Number in party: one.
Closing the lid,
2. The path
is found in guide
3. Above Hidden Falls
and above me on two sides
peaks blossom whitely
in arrangements of photographs.
up the next six switchbacks.
4. More things falling
The grove of small cottonwoods
is half gilded
and full of the sound of water dripping from leaves.
The pinnacle spruce are coming into their own with snow on their noses
but this also is melting
in a sound of leaves and even some needles dropping
disguising the rustling patter of the warblers
picking through the trees on their way south
High on the sky rim
5. Farther up the trail and beyond the forks
This is my
one day to be alone.
that I keep meeting,
why do you always offer me
things which are irresistible? –
6. The glacier
It takes a long time
to get up close
and it is still
far away filling the horizon
between two cliffs.
hang above a pool
the color of concrete.
The stonepile blocking the water
feels like it could move with a shove
– is avoided
on the route past.
The glacier tells
that in the winter which is soon
it will make up for
7. Out in the open
At ten thousand feet
the overwhelming smell of
Just one kind of plant grows here. I pick a twig
and am woozy with licorice.
For all I know the rocks and yellow lichens smell the same but
I’m too tired to get on hands and knees.
The rock-colored pikas beeent sarcastically
and scurry to gather licorice for the winter.
The marmots are too tame, obviously
stupefied on licorice.
At the top of the switchbacks the smell vanishes
as it has when at the bottom
I pull a couple of crushed leaves
from my pocket.
8. Hurricane Divide
It’s funny how the mountains
having come this far
Those must be potato fields in Idaho
way over there.
On a gravel flat not far below me
a pack train sorts itself out,
uninterested in the view.
They come on with jangling and clapping,
the horses slipping if they get off onto the snow.
At the crest each cowboy in turn, seeing my side of things,
or shouts to those following.
They have turned along the ridge
The wilderness is narrow.
After all the commotion
it is good to look back
over where I’ve come
and at every inch of the three Tetons
and far from me as ever.
9. Running back the way I’ve come
and on the levels
Bathing my feet at the bridge
I have a good laugh
with my socks
10. On out
The peaks tighten again toward the mouth of the canyon
but just here the creek has room to wind.
Those dark dots in the shadows across where it’s marshy
are moose grazing.
The bull’s antlers catch the sun as he lifts his head.
Perhaps he feels autumn coming on.
Why must I leave
this wide place
11. Inspiration Point
half across the lake!
No running –
My pack gouging! my
Our eyes see only what moves.
A still object moves in the minute flickering of our eyes.
Otherwise we could not see it.
To see something move, or to stand still and then move past it
makes it substantial,
time adding to depth.
Sounds and smells carry on currents of air.
If we wait, they reveal themselves to us calmly.
Rushing past we stampede them from cover.
To travel a path in sections, with rests
and then at a later time run it in reverse
creates a bubble of sensation which floats in and
half rising above
the inhospitable surface of memory.
I would like to do this with whole stages of my life
but must be content
with short and easy journeys.
tiredness. Those gleaming
14. I continue
The journey is trampled
like September frost under fresh bootprints
or disperses within me
like the fluid in my healing feet.
Nancy: Do you know what you need to feel that you’re home? That this is the place that’s been waiting for you? Not a space, but a place?
What Do You Need?
to hear a canyon wren
to see grain, grass, soybeans
to hear water run downhill
is it sunset on red cliffs
or feeling, seeing, smelling
moss, ferns, bog, wood
steel cutting wood
as you go out
is it this place or that place
the cornfield. the sea.
when you’re there you know
when you’re lost you know
is it something that’s gone
paved, cut, filled, emptied
gone gone gone
where do you keep it
how do you keep it
do you sing to it
tide stone feather moon
blood bones heart
here, can you say
here, put my bones down here
“Cascade Canyon” first appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal.