Three poems

Susan Tichy

 

‘In country that is rough, but not difficult, one sees where one is and where one is going at the same time’ (Nan Shepherd)

 

As rock speaks to any

trained or curious eye:

 

someone else

sometime else

 

laid down words—

thin sheets or thick—

 

something broke them

lifted, pressed them

 

here: each rippled sand

each pebble clenched:

 

motion rendered

visible, in red boulders

 

thick with clasts, a wild

conglomerate, something made

 

of other things where

‘pain and suffering shape

 

the mind,’ a quite implausible

‘up above’ where wind hammers

 

worlds together: convenient

and bleak

 

reduced to brash or

lichen crust as brute matter

 

wind/light/space

a mystery thick

 

as contour lines on an old map

—called reticent

 

or maybe clitched, or

‘looking back down

 

the path to the sea’

—I meant seabed

 

a fossil storm just

part way up

 

to paradise—look here:

a shallow dip in rough scree

 

‘where water comes gradually

into focus’ only because

 

it trembles: that is wind

speaking softly

 

felt by those who carry pain

as others carry

 

talismans, a descendental

willingness

 

to walk all day in pursuit

of fear—I mean

 

to corner it, trap it, parse it

thumbing a rock

 

of green/black waves

touching light

 

in the form of leaf

time in a metamorphic

 

stone: ‘and who

with any sense

 

can’t be interested

in that?’—the sheen

 

the shades, the Gates

of Delirium

 

sandstone, sandwort

iron oxide

 

thought or spasm

touch or word:

 

where a breeze

crosses pain flutters

 

muscle, ligament

sediment, sentiment

 

trees bent flat

by wind and snow

 

skirling waves

of rock uplifting:

 

try to stand there

try to find

 

a there exactly

touching here

 

a timberline

so crystal clear

 

so free of pity

free of dread

 

and all the lakes

that live there still

 

as wind.

 

Avalanche Theory

 

Not cross-section but snow cushion

Not snow cushion but wind slab

Not wind slab but depth hoar

Not depth hoar but deprivation

Not deprivation but detriment

Not detriment but punishment

Not punishment but pillory

Not pillory but armory

Not armory but memory

Not memory but milkweed

Not milkweed but fireweed

Not fireweed but free fall

Not free fall but base fold

Not base fold but firn snow

Not firn snow but snow plume

Not snow plume but speed of sound

Not speed of sound but surge of air

Not surge of air but line of fracture

Not line of fracture but alabaster

Not alabaster but adamant

Not adamant but parchment

Not parchment but palinode

Not palinode but pine warbler

Not pine warbler but wind pebble

Not wind pebble but blunt pencil

Not blunt pencil but burned pillar

 

Snow rarely falls in a state of absolute calm

 

six sections from Suibhne on Eigg: A Dictionary of His Days and Nights

 

This sequence began during my residency at Bothan Suibhne/Sweeney’s Bothy on the Hebridean island of Eigg. A collaboration between Alec Finlay and The Bothy Project, the glass-walled, one-room retreat is the second in a series of artist huts in remote Scottish locations. Finlay has written: I was inspired by the ancient Gaelic legend of Suihbne/Sweeney, the 7th century poet-king who underwent a traumatic crisis in the clash and bring of battle, levitated, leapt, and took to sleeping in a thorn bush. His war-torn exile in the wilderness became a way to interrogate the wild mind, hutting, dwelling, survivalism, protest, and island culture. In some tales, Suibhne found brief refuge on Eigg, the farthest point in his wanderings. In keeping with the limits of island resources, the poems are composed using the Analytic Dictionary procedure (created by the Oulipo’s Noël Arnaud) in which each word must be generated from letters of preceding words arranged in a prescribed and compact graphic.

 

ISLAND

 

An inch of silver light. A narrow danger, illegible intent, or an amorous arc in low, gray water. Then rock nest, hump-backed, veering high above raw, green edge. Tender yarrow opens at evening. Reach wild rest.

 

SHUIBHNE

 

A salt hut under island’s black headland. A nervous eagle, unafraid of northward-slanting light. An empty eye, an anger, a lift: tensing. In doubt, he listens, arcs away as rising gulls turn east.

 

SALT

 

Sea-ash. Light-talk. Eye-sting. If island air is a hard glance, a low hut is home to kelp and thistle.

 

HUT

 

A haven under thorn. A northward hum. To view the danger is to own the edge. As echo, as ebb, so rest and rage will near, return. Narrowly.

 

ARROW

 

Its arc is its reach. Like a raven over open water, the eye reads its exact path. Or, as a compass alters without effort, so an echo touches a cliff. Double or nothing: in the enemy’s hand, a single rock.

 

THORN

 

A test of hope, its opposite is rage. Naked, exiled, his only path is ascent, but angle, like spear point, pierces. Gnawing, kneeling, torn, exhausted, he owns his own ending, scents his own death. Imagined terror: an exact equal.

 

Susan Tichy’s most recent books are Trafficke (2015), Gallowglass (2010), and The Avalanche Path in Summer (forthcoming), all from Ahsahta Press. Currently writing poems on mountains, coastlines, and island edges, she teaches at George Mason University, & when not teaching lives in a ghost town in the southern Rocky Mountains.

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