The Angle of Repose
This poem won Honourable mention in the 2011 2-Day Poem Contest
Unlike the western slopes and save for the Thompson River,
the northernmost edge of the Cascade Mountain Range
is dry and compulsive. You climb through Engelmann Spruce
and Ponderosa Pine until you break through to a different kind of seeing,
an emptiness in the mind like an umbrella flipped onto its head. Today,
other than two gray jays who quibble about the price of pine nuts,
there’s no one in sight to mar the stillness.
At this height
everything, including sound, begins to thin,
the soil, the air, the trees,
but, there, a stand of Larch, would-be saints
quoting scripture from rote memory and whipping themselves
with needled branches, exposing the soft heartwood, the treacle flesh.
Teach me how to pray.
Teach to believe what the dead say.
I want to hear a voice say Maybe when I ask.
You leave the marked trail and clamber over a scree slope,
faith’s angle of repose. The path
just instinct now, a lake drawn on a map, rock overgrown with lichen:
Hooded Bone, Devil’s Matchstick, Sulphur Stubble.
Here, wind is a moving meditation, a listening
hollow as a cave dug into the hillside of memory
and memory beaked and raven-tongued.
You hear it cawing at your back, but don’t turn around.
You’ve already left the trees behind and are becoming unbranched,
leafless, the blackened stump of a fire that burned itself out
years ago. Higher up, something hears its name called
and wakes from a long dreamless sleep. It stretches
and rises from its hard bier,
near-sighted and hungry.
Published online June 01 2011.
This poem was a winner in CV2’s annual 2-Day Poem Contest. Every April, CV2 challenges players to create a new original poem that uses all 10 words of our choosing. It’s poetry under pressure for prizes, publication, and personal bests. Learn how to sign up for the next 2-Day Poem Contest.