Route sketched on a map, as if walking

Susan Tichy

 

Route sketched on a map, as if walking

were a kind of drawing, large-scale,

repeatable. Yet, like the body, a walk

exists only as it happens. Look back,

if you can, and call the telling

a literature of paradise: the long days,

the short nights, wrapped up in an army poncho,

rolled in under the willow-brush to sleep, while

‘at every moment some new ridge

seemed to start into existence.’ Now

double the silence by listening to it:

some old tide-race nothing now

but a seep with yellow warblers. From there,

you may darken the way with a pencil,

steepen the avalanche path in accord

with leg muscles that hurt for days—

the near retaining evidence

of far. You may say, if you wish,

it was ‘quite monotonous all the way up,

composed of a winding tendril’—

though not if you copy accurately

those seventeen spruce cut off

at the depth of snow, their scattered trunks

awash in a lake of flowers: the scene

of force in all its glory. Nothing else known

if it cannot be measured in strides—

and no two equal. That is why

you must ‘tenderly unite the darker tints,’

devote the day to surviving the mountain

(that’s meant to say surveying, sorry)—

a mingling of topography and math,

or footsteps with quotations. Genre may be

a pleasant ramble or ‘stumbling, groaning,

slipping and pulling up short, over stones,

puddles, snow-wet grass, and every variety of pitfall

including cows.’ So tell me again

about the fall through ice, and I’ll tell you

of my boots on the trail, a well-drawn fact

despite the ‘solitude of frozen peaks.’

For after paradise comes the body,

with ‘all its goddamn ups and downs—’

its night frost has hardened the snow, or

soak a kitchen towel in a bowl of tea,

lay it over a sunburned back. Take in

the undulating near, the far level,

blue and cold, with ‘terraces of pure velvet’

(otherwise known as evening shadows),

clouds on the move, ‘like weeds

in a river current,’ and a dozen moraines

thrown about in a kind of frenzy.

I remember it all, the view was splendid,

and I’ve marked the spot where,

‘struggling to remember

where she put her foot on the way up,’

the dog crawled into my rucksack to sleep.

 

Quotations are from various works by John Ruskin, Leslie Stephen, and Rebecca Solnit.

 

Susan Tichy is the author of five books, including Trafficke (2015), Gallowglass (2010), and Bone Pagoda (2007), all from Ahsahta Press. She teaches at George Mason University, and when not teaching lives in a ghost town in the Colorado Rockies. This poem is from a new manuscript, The Avalanche Path in Summer.

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