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Monday, December 07, 2009

An unknown tongue

An edited repost


She gathers her oldest friends,
spaceblanket, matchsafe, whistle, map,
cheese, bread, water bottle, poncho.

Stuffs them in her tattered fireman's vest.
This is a new route, but deduction finds
the lightly traveled path. Burdened with

fallen limbs, fir needles, moss: a still place.
The vine maples have yet no leaves;
the moss-lined nests in their jointures

harbor no eggs. There are times when tall
firs on these ridges creak and suffer,
a forest of masts in a wind-swept

anchorage: this is no such time.
She has been used to walking alone. In forest.
Has walked through it to crags dawn-rosy

at sunrise, has hunkered under wuther
of rain-heavy winds. Smother of cloud-drift,
snow-drizzle. Now, for a sudden, she stops.

Puzzling, her alienness. What can be different?
Here are familiar violets, trilliums, oxalis.
She gathers moss, horse lettuce, a couple of conks,

smooth-talking pebbles, yet connection
goes missing. Her heart leaps cold in her chest,
and her pulse raves. On impulse she whirls

round on her track, querying silence.
But how to read this absence? What does she
not see? Bear? Cougar? It is a feeling one has

When malevolence portends. So often in life
she has felt this. Only in cities and the lifelines
of cities, those rivers of asphalt and their pageants

of strangers. She must establish herself here,
she feels. Some introduction has been omitted.
She searches her vest and locates an old pipe,

a treasure remaining from another life.
It goes where she goes, though she thinks of it seldom.
There is little tobacco in the bowl, but enough,

and she chooses a bit from the mountain,
kinnikinnick leaves, to add. Self-consciously
borrowing culture, she offers the pipe

to four compass points, then grey sky,
the soundless earth at her feet, and sits.
Untwisting the lid of her matchsafe.

Fire lit, she sends smoke quietly aloft.
It rises uncertainly, then finds the drift
of cold air sliding downslope into evening.

Whatever seemed angry seems to her angry still,
but gives way before the smoke of offering;
makes with her a capful of truce: she will not

be eaten today, it seems. Tripped up, or smashed.
She will not name the place, "place where I broke
my leg" or "place where I lost my spirit."

In return, she must finish this hike now
and not soon return. Returning the horse lettuce,
conks, moss, and stones, she wryly smiles

inward. If this is superstition, so let it be,
she says to herself. We do what we have to do.
The silence, which she'd thought a hieroglyph

of an unknown tongue, nods and agrees.



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