On Giant Ledge, Catskill Mountains

 

                             I

 

At 2,000 feet a pall of fog  

      The cloud is stable, still, and there is no sound

of wind in the new spring leaves.

          We expect certain miracles or horrors in fog,

       vision of lancers in wet armor

          on a desultory retreat; or the death in cold rain,

   with a broken leg, with no help,

        and the leg,

looking at it close, is very broken. 

  

    You will die here, in this fog, on a high mountain.

         

            The trail makes us sweat.  She strips her blue shirt.  

     My first time with a topless hiker, and the trail ascends,

          darkening under the cloud and a canopy of pine. 

                            

                             II

 

          Back in the city, at Parkside Lounge on East Houston,

     where a poetry reading is in progress. 

         At the bar, a bald man slams  

    his pint glass with an architectural exasperation. 

        He rolls his eyes,

          grits his teeth,

            pouts, then tells the bartender,

       holding up his glass, “A Harp.  In there. Please.” 

 

    And slams the glass once more on the bar.

 

Ah, the Angry Young New Yorker.  He has not been served well.

                            

                             III    

 

I suggest he take a good hike.

 

Mountains of ice, dust,

Dear as winter fire

Built of twenty twigs

And one red-robin colored log.

 

A good climb

Makes you shut up, at last.

 

Whatever romance is in these high places

Is at the end of exhaustion,

Having done well, hurt your feet, been cold,

Hot, cold, having heard

The air thin,

And heard from the rarefied issue of your blood

A rare moan.

Slump on the glop of moss on rock,

And there is no view, too much fog,

 

But you have come from somewhere low

To somewhere high,

And this need not be said at all.

 

                             IV

 

Then: the shouldering mountain thunder

And the clip and click of small petals rained on

 

And a voice not my own

But of tender fire-light

In the long cold upland tarn

And the smell of gunpowder

And the wide swung axe on the firewood

And the mosquito that sucks all night long.

                            

                             V

 

My Lady and I lay in the long grass

By Pecoy Pond

Where the ticks bite

And there are rattlers in the rock eaves

And there is a thumping in the treeline

Of big mammal antlers

rasping the hemlock.

 

We strip, skip rocks,

Swim in the cold gilt spring tarn, 

Uterus, intestine,

Penis and gland and hand and breast

And sumptuous ass.

 

We dried each other by the blackberry bush

Her knee and I and thigh.

She is colored sometimes like rum,

And colored sometimes like milk, and she has blue-green eyes.

 

Epilogue

 

          I

 

Return to city.

It is a cavil

To think my eye

And I, shall be clean

From two or three forest

hikes.

 

It is rumor what the drunk Satyr tells us.

 

He says there is a stream

Where the living

Shall be happy.

 

On this vacation:

My daughter brought

Me the skull of an ox.

My mother dug up

An old gun in the garden

And a rotten pair of socks.

 

          II

 

Daddy went mad

Drinking springs

On mountaintops.

 

He thought

There was pure water --

          Always tasting

          Strange grit.

 

One day,

He wouldn’t drink

Any more,

And his body

Shrank, his eyes

Dried up,

 

His spleen dropped,

His balls returned

To his abdomen,

 

His big toe disappeared,

His meaty thigh

Made no shadow,

 

And on the longest

day, solstice,

he went to the mountains

to die.

 

          III

 

These hikes have

Taught me nothing.

I was someplace low,

Then I was someplace high.

They are remedial learning.

 

 

                                                                   -Christopher Ketcham