Solo Climber On Paths: Part IV

Perhaps poems are simply paths
we make in walking, sometimes,
even when headed the wrong way;

these things—gifts, one picks
up and passes on,
  along the way.

A New Friend

                for Paolo

Before I could remember
how to say I was walking,
he leapt out of his car, speaking
perfect English, throwing
my pack in his trunk.

"You can stay with me.
But you'll need a car, some
money and a date, perhaps."

How could I refuse?
The idea that I must walk
the whole way
went up in a puff of smoke
on the sound of tires
quite used to losing their grip
three or more curves down the road.

A Poor Man's Vacation

The bench had been freshly
painted a bright red, made all
the brighter by the surrounding
light greens of forest spring.

A man, grizzly, unkempt,
with few clothes, (How could he
make it through the mountain night?)
but with a certain refinement
in his gestures, belongings
pouring out of his bag onto the path.

He had his beans cooking
in the can leaning against a stone
at some well-studied, precise angle,
with, underneath, the smallest larch
twig fire I've ever seen.

"I used to be a chemikus. Abito
now in Pari. Ik ga nach Roma.

He spoke a confusion of different
tongues, but I guessed he might be
Dutch. He said his name was Hans.
Holding up a brand new white and
orange bag of polenta, he said with
no uncertain pride,

"I koop this for 75 cent."

I couldn't argue with him. Those
just new to an area have an eye
for bargains the locals easily pass by.


In all the big cities of the world,
when old men end up
sleeping under bridges,

in their dreams, they go
back in time to the knowledge,

that in the mountains,
the best caves are found
under the biggest boulders;

the bigger they are, and the higher
the cliffs are from which they have fallen,
the more sure a man can be,

that they will not give way under
the relentless pressure of even
the most unexpected of

     stormy nights.

On the Necessity of Poetry


Walking from spring
to spring,

one tires quickly of all
the intellectual bushbeating,

telling me I'm
not thirsty
when I'm


Let's be simple:
A house with a hearth
is a home with a center.

After somebody lets the fire
go out, they always like to tell
you it wasn't important.


Bird calls are often answered
by silences of equal duration.

Who is to say which one—
the sound or the silence,
is more important.


We are born naked; we make
love naked; we die

Though not strictly necessary,
doing poetry naked seems to work
just fine, too.


Once the commons
are fenced in and sold,

on the very same ground
we'll argue incessantly about—

    the necessity of poetry.

Lamb of the Lord

All energy is directed
down to a single point
as with but one blow
he hammers the bullet
into the kidgoat's skull.
Just as deftly, he slits its
throat, draining the blood.

Still warm, what was once
all muscle and resistance
lays limp in the straw, while
a sibling is tied with a short
snatch of rope and wrenched
up to the scale in one smooth

   More than 12 kilos means
   certain death.

He carries the two carcasses
by the hind legs, one in each
hand, working hard to keep
their dangling heads with
stubby little devil's horns
out of the freshly fallen
snow, making his way from
barn to his basement where
he'll dress the meat.

Three of the village children
peak out from the side of the barn,
their blushed cherub faces watching
the scene as if from a slightly distant.
more subtle realm of being.
A lean black dog growls and snaps,
cutting frenzied figure 8's in the snow
around the farmer's slow, methodical.
all-business-like trek back to the house.

Meanwhile, in a distant city, a dinner
party is about to begin. It is spring,
Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best.
"How tender," they say. At that same moment,
the farmer and his family say grace
and cross themselves.

From a window looking in: Inside,
almost timeless, happy, faces look
down into their steaming bowls
of fresh stomach stew. Outside,
in the mountain darkness, snow
falls without a whisper of wind,
flake by flake erasing all the travail
of the day's passage.

Truly, if there were indeed angels,
how they would endlessly love to
discuss the mysterious ways
our world of earthlings is threaded
together anew, each time
a life is taken, each time it snows,
each time—

      we break bread.

Border Crossings


On neither side of the border
was war, although there had
been in the past.

The man in the uniform wasn't
old enough to remember that; neither
were the dogs.

Only the gun looked
exactly the same.


With more
than enough money,

borders mean
next to nothing.


On targets, they draw
a kind of generalized human being;
it could be a man, a woman or
even a child.

At 300 meters, you see the bullets
flash off granite first; a fraction
later, you hear the shot.

Terrifying, this border crossed, when,
even at close range,
the figures still don't have faces.


There wasn't war.
The tanks—there were 15
of them— were firing
live shells.

Broad daylight, they
could see the whole
of the arched trajectory,
from first flash to distant
explosion in glacier ice.

400 years ago they thought
a cannon ball followed
a straight line path, flying out
at an angle, then plummeting
directly down to earth.

Nowadays, things are
more precise. The rear
doors of the tanks
opened and some 40 men
jumped out. I had taken
them by surprise.

"Just practice," the lieutenant
said. He showed me a map
with the way out. I opted for
a safer route—

   straight down the mountain.


When you know
there could
be a disturbance,

there already

Home Grown

Right in the middle
of the path,

a dead sheep, body
burned black, blown up
like an old tire.

Further down the way,
a man, long black hair
down to his shoulders,
lies, mouth open, passed
out on a rock, cigarette
burning in his hand,
an empty bottle on the ground.

I get around him
without waking him up.
They say, in these parts,
good shepherds are
hard to find.

   Maybe it's the price of wool.

The Richest Man in the World

They found him with a dollar bill
clinched between his teeth;

They said, they couldn't get
the gun out of his hands.


When a farmer wakes up
one morning in the middle of May
to the joy of forty acres of newly
sprouted corn, and knows

that his sons want nothing
of farming, and are off to the
city to make a name for themselves,
then we can be sure that hunger
of some kind is less than a generation away.


   "Charity sees the need,
    but not the cause."
     Old German saying

: When one man's bread
becomes another's guilt;


when one man's guilt
becomes another's bread.

Open Road

Hitchhiking. It's late,
raining. Wondering
where to set up camp.

With time, one comes
to realize, despite the constant
flow of bright lights,

that the faster a sound
comes at you, the steeper
it bends. Either way,
in an alternative world,

that could've been either
you -- or me -- riding the wave
of disappearing red light.


He had stopped to clear
fallen rocks off the path.
It wasn't his job.

Thick mist, he showed
me clearly the route
I wanted to take, pointing
his stick first at this stone
and then that. He tapped
the third stone hard for
emphasis, and said to stop
there and camp.

No map, I knew I
could trust him.
He was clearing rocks
off the path.
It wasn't his job.

Power of the Word

After a five day wait, I
crossed the pass walking
slowly over narrow frozen
streams of wind-hardened snow.

Hours later, getting dark,
not much flat ground about,
I set camp next to an old
roofless hut with a hand-
written sign nailed to
a stake in the grass:

   "Beware of Vipers!"

I knew for a fact that
this wasn't true, yet I
didn't shut an eye all night.

Fair Share

I've noticed that, if
what I compose on one
side of a page
isn't much good, I'll turn the page
over and start again, or, sometimes,
I'll set off on a wholly different path.

I've noticed, too, that critics—
either professionals, or worse,
with all due respect, those
I've internalized, are
the ones who make a livelihood
by exacting a share
of the profits earned
in selling the second page
before I've finished with
making my mistakes on the first.



Walking to camp,
or camping to walk...

I still can't say which one
comes first.


The evening before
a climb, I get nervous.

I've noticed, I
laugh a lot more
when not going alone.


The map says that
this land is owned
by no one,

a fact which has been
corroborated by many
signs along the way.

  Evening, and the view
  extends as far on a curved
  surface as you can see.

  Morning, and my shelter
  sits atop an ocean of mist
  6000 feet deep.

The same pure water that
boils and cooks my buckwheat
flows from here

to join a great sea thousands
of miles away, with not one
mountain in between.

Leaving, reluctantly,
packing up, getting started,
I think, who ever came up with
the thought, "Lord of the Land."


       "A mistake is
       a mistake repeated."

On the way, as
one gets older,
it's only natural
to turn from simply making mistakes—

   if I could only see things from
   some broader, higher perspective;
   if I could only see clearly the need
   to go on when I want to turn back

— to teaching others, including myself,
how not to make them. But, I
must confess, that the only
one who can teach me
how to do this is you—
the reader—who,
also, is me.

The Way of Paths

On either side of a farmer's fence,
a wooden ladder with three
high rungs;

a path, clearly visible, runs
straight through a field of yellow
mustard, half a man high;

I followed, somewhat re-
luctantly. Later, when I asked
at a café, a local told me. "Take
it mate. You've got right of way!"

Between the Ways

When I play the hunter, I've
sometimes noticed I long for
the more carefree rambling ways
of the gatherer, coming upon
by accident, as it were, a whole
field of ripe berries;

When I play the gatherer, I've
sometimes noticed I tire of
all the boring beating about
the bush and long for the sharp-
pointed confidence of
the hunter who finds and
kills on the spot
exactly what he needs.


I saw a bear once
with one deft swipe
of a paw wrest a salmon
from a stream, skin it,
and eat it whole,
head first.

There was no hesitation
in any of this.

It was performed as
one flowing movement.

(Coda) The Room of Mind

My conscious mind is but
a small room, full of facts
of different kinds; it has
no windows and is rather

Outside the room is non-
conscious mind; it is vast
and surrounds the room
like a wilderness over which
I have little control, although
I can venture there, which
is refreshing.

I've noticed that walking
gets me out of my own little
room. I've noticed, too, that
it's easy to get stuck inside—
very stuck. Before I
know it, forgetting that poems
are something like paths we make in walking,
I'll mistake the dark
little closet where I've locked up
all the unpaid bills of the past
for the door which leads


(Photo: Solo Climber; 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 VIII |
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