blue glacier
On Paths: Part III

When worried about the finish
before getting started,

I know I'm
on the wrong

Of Cars and Boots

My friends who own cars
tell me they can be in the high
country in but half a day.

No car, just a pack and a pair
of old boots, but I say, I stay—

   in the mountains.


Pay Day

He handed me 12
100 frank notes for a summer's

I must confess, the only two things
I know about the ways of money,
are whether I have it or not.
I thought, well, what
am I going to do?

Then I thought, with
a pound of blueberries,
gathered and sold,
I can get more than that
much buckwheat. Not
a bad deal. That's a fact.

Then I had second thoughts.
Half a summer's work for
a pair of boots?—

Well, maybe it's worth it.
With new soles here and there,
I can get 4 or 5 thousand miles
out of them. Not a bad deal!

That will get me far enough
from this place. And walking
is for free. Now, that's a fact.

Fire Starter

When short of kindling,
I must confess, the first thing to go
is the literary journals;

then the guide books, and
only very reluctantly the dictionary
and then the maps.

But my notebook? Well, if it must,
that too. But blank pages first,
or those scribbled with numbers and poems?
Now, it's getting cold, I'm alone,
and I'm of two minds. Think of that.

Night Watch

Flash goes the lightning.
In the tent, the air is calm
and the candle's flame is motionless.

Flash goes the lightning.
Outside the tent, the terrifying
sound of boulders swept away
by a river rising fast.

Flash goes the lightning.
In the tent, the air is calm
and the candle's flame is motionless.



Opening the door
to the café, I see
that it is empty.

Walking into the room,
the wooden floor creaks
like frozen snow under moonlight.

All the windows are closed.
In a corner is perched
a stuffed golden eagle, wings spread
out the length of a man, with a lamb
clutched in its talons. Both
claws and beak painted a yellow
truer than life.

I ring a bell at a table, which
is promptly answered by sounds
coming from a speaker on a wall
opposite the lamb and the eagle.

The music piped in is stranger
than life, electric instruments,
electric recording, electric speaker...

A shaft of sunlight peaks through
a window, hitting first the table,
then a hand-carved cross of pine just
behind me.

Still, there's no one in the room.
Time enough to ponder the things
we put up on walls...


When one returns to a café,
even after many years, one
tends to sit at the same table.

Who says repetition
is such a bad thing?


The waitress looks at the stranger,
seeing his pack, wishing
she could walk off with him.

The man looks at the waitress
and sees suddenly in himself
a more responsible side—

a master of small talk,
of mixed salads, of a
home where the door's left
open even when it rains.


In the restroom, listening
to the washbasin sound two pitches
as the water hits the metal bottom:

B and C#, or something
like that, reminding me of a piece
I had once known well.

There was a spray can with a cord attached
neatly screwed to the wall, bright
limegreen lemon painted
on its side.

I passed. Looking in the
first mirror I'd seen in two weeks,
I paused and thought,

   this is hopeless!

—I had second thoughts about
using the can.



Skiing down a steep,
icy, dangerous slope,

the camera zooms in
for a close-up:

When does the theater end,
and the real performance begin?


There were no witnesses.
Even the crows cried, "Bravo!"


The conductor finished
before the piece was over,

as the orchestra crashed
into the last bars.

The audience stood to their
feet, clapping. In the square arena,
names in gilt on a background
of sky blue.

Evidently, this has
happened before.


When worried about the finish
before getting started,

I know I'm
on the wrong

Hut Caretaker

for Paul

People come and go,
come and go.
So he knows enough
of city life to write a book.

"You can only know the land
you can walk in a single day."

He hadn't said it. Or
even read it.

He knew it,
He knew it, all the same.

Flash of Insight

Believe it or not,
there was a book
on the summit.
Believe it or not.

One must see these things for oneself:
a metal box bolted to solid granite.

The book was old, but
untouched by weather.

I thought to myself, if there
were a God, angry or not,
who shot fierce barbs of lightning,
that wooden cross over there and then

   this book

would be first to go.

Digger of Potatoes

Having reached a broad plateau
still a good mile above the valley floor..

There are people here! And
a road! Small houses!
And look there,

After weeks of cold, snow
and steep rocky faces, paradise
is not easily passed by.

The three of them were bent
under heavy brown sacks of

The oldest man pointed up
towards where I had come from,
and asked, "A journey?"

I nodded, and said I had heard
that the women in a village near by
still made fine linen by hand.

The youngest, thick black braided
hair, smiled.
Signs that give a man hope.

Second Thoughts

Some climbs are harder
than others.

A mile and a half higher,
and still I'm not above treeline.

Not a single stream in sight.
What to do with the water
in my pack? Wash or eat?

Exhausted, I put down my bag
on chestnut pincushions I hadn't seen,
eating dry buckwheat with salt
out of a bag.

Night comes with dreams of fields
of new potatoes. Ah good sweet earth...

   "Would you like some more
   fresh butter?"

The things we pass by on the way.


I must confess that
I enjoy a sugar cube
or two of culture
in my little teaspoon
of wilderness.


When writing new
compositions, one
upon the other,

one prays that
they might with time
get better.


On the glacier, frozen
in solid ice, a freshly painted
can, red with white letters.

I took a swipe at it with the adze
of my ice axe, then walked on....

Strange, this heavy metal
cut into a symphony of

Too Close for Comfort

for Ferruccio

He looked me straight in the eye
and said,

"You can stay here. Eat
something, have some wine."

When dogs see a stranger and
don't bark, you know there's
a man of some dignity about.

He had the whole valley to himself.
"The bread's old. Brought it
up here three days ago."

Eating too much, he made a fire,
smoke finding its way out the
stone roof.

"You know, there's a war going
on not far from here. If you walked the other way,
you could be there in two months time."

The dogs, big eyed and quiet, listened
to him talk.

He hit the coals of the fire and threw
another handful of pasta in the soup.

Without saying a thing, the dogs
got up and walked out the door
of the hut.

Sometimes, something as simple as
a roof can be a blessing. I fell asleep
to the sound of the valley closing
in with clouds and rain.

Before first light, I woke and
saw him pouring hot coffee into
two cups.

"You know, you better go
now. The snow will be soft
before you're down ."

By a small pile of rocks on the trail,
he let out a shrill whistle and
the dogs charged up a slope of alder,

chasing after something, I
couldn't see.

The President

He walked right up
to me and said,

"I'm the president of this valley!"
waving his arms out into the air.

Men who meet outside like to
get straight to the heart of the matter.

There were jeeps around, and
a gun next to the door.

"Have some wine.That's
my son with a friend. He's
a lawyer. They're coming down.
Too much snow."

Carrying their guns low like
hunters who know they're not
going to shoot anything anymore,
we met half way. Happy to use
their tracks, they wished me well,
knowing that at a certain point
I'd be on my own.

While I hoped the snow would be less
deep on the other side of the pass,
the sound of the man's voice stayed
with me a long time.

He said he had learned his English
as a prisoner of the Japanese
in the South Pacific.

In the mountains, what we do
in town does not leave much of a trace,
even on the smooth surface of—

     new snow.

(Photo: Blue Light, Fall Glacier; the Alps)

go to On Paths: Part I a part of Week II | go to On Paths: Part II  a part of Week III |
go to On Paths: Part IV, a part of Week VII | |
PicturePage: Week V |
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