High Country Climb

From an outcrop,
where trees give way to walls of basalt
cracked by small blue flowers,
we rubbed our sunburnt eyes.
Late afternoon, late summer,
we three men in our forties
sipped whiskey from tin cups.

Back of us,
native cutthroats ringed the surface
of the nameless alpine lake,
a black mirror wedged in crags.
Our tent pitched on a polished
granite bulge, our boots hot
and kicked off, we groaned, exhausted,
felt good, we said,
like the gods we were once,
our shoulders raw from pack straps.

A great shadow crawled across
the valley floor, up the glinting ice
of Mt. Daniel, pink in final sun.

And then we talked—this and that:
how, suddenly, we wished our wives were here.
And our kids, off on their own now.
how tired we were of work routine,
the boss, bills, the broken clutch.
How our lives hadn't turned out
quite the way we thought,
and now what to do with our folks,
aged, growing frail.

The mountain swelled,
the whiskey darkened in our eyes.
We joked about blisters on our blisters.
With the evening chill rose
the piny smell of heather.
That final switchback was a killer.
Yeah. Never again. Never again.

Far off, a trout splashed in heaven.
We stretched on still-warm stone,
remembering how stars can swim—
forgetting for a moment they are only
sparks of ice, the world below is heartless,
and tomorrow we must go down.

Ed Harkness | Mudlark No. 13
Contents | Saying the Necessary