Mountain state (2)

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the song of the winter wren goes spiraling
into the treetops down cliff under ferndrip ledge
follows the loop of a fox grape vine
& lodges in the bend of birthwort’s
pipe-shaped flower

it twines across the altar of my concentration
electric now with offerings
every part of worry anxiety hope

& tunneling through a weave of rhododendron
the trail goes straight, gently undulating
like the narrow-gauge rail bed it once was
carrying out trees in short sections
from what somehow managed to remain wild
high bowl of a remote mountain watershed
& freed from any need to watch our feet
we scarcely notice how much we have climbed
how much we have left behind

I glide as through a gallery, hungry for visions
saunter as if along a city sidewalk
each tulip tree and oak another body
to measure against my own
each of us a stranger only to ourselves
the slick fictions we grow year by year
in rings around the so-called heartwood
where sap long since ceased to flow

I see myself held in an eye of wood
I am implicated in a ripple of grain laid bare
when the bark dropped off

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but the plant people if you want
to call them that are far more timid than we are
we look at them carefully out of
the corner of an eye & pretend
only to care about identification
as if membership in a tribe or species
tells us anything beyond what name to use
when talking behind their backs
what they really have to say I think has
something to do with how to hold our ground

even the most active beings can make me feel
less like a discoverer than the discovered
is this for example the same tiger swallowtail
weaving drunkenly above the water
for the last three miles
every time I catch a glimpse of the creek?

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the trail wanders past an old cellarhole with a new
display of plastic flowers that spell “Mom”
& a garden site gone wild with mountain mint
we stuff our pockets with the fragrant leaves

we pause at a spring where mossy stones sleep
like small green bears
I pull out my camera & my friend bares her teeth

here’s a veery, descending call
like a flute inside a bottle as
my friend puts it
or perhaps two flutes played by a single flautist

we cook lunch among the boulders on the creek
& afterwards go browsing for lichen patterns
my friend seeing endpapers for hand-made books

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I spend a short century in a smiling contest
with the mossy head of a demiurge of stone
rising from the water, lines of bubbles
swimming slowly through its patch of sun
rich baritone voice in a language I feel
I can almost understand
& all around it the creek in shadow

& I am whispering encantado,
desencantado
like a child
slowly plucking the spokes of a daisy
cantar is still the commonest
verb for “sing” in Spanish so
to be encantado really means to be caught
in a web of song I muse
focusing one at a time on each
voice in the watery chorus

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on the walk back we find a redrock shelf
at the edge of the creek pitted with potholes
some empty, others cupping moon-shaped pieces
of sky & a few mosquito larvae
wriggling back & forth in what
doubtless only looks like ecstasy

I can say anything, I think, arrogant
in my power to make little worlds from words
but anything I can say falls short of this world
its liquid laughter pure from the beginning
free of the salt of tears

just before leaving we stop at a spring with a waterfall
& a black PVC viaduct strung on a cable
gravity water for someone whose dog barks
from the other side of the creek
we fill all our bottles
& thrust cupped hands into the flow

surely water clear as glass should let us
see into some kind of future
or at least as far as the mountain’s stone heart
but it’s my own arteries I see
throbbing in my wrists
I lower my face to the would-be window & drink

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the next day on the flat-topped Allegheny Front
I study the cousinship of peak & bog
the same plants so often growing on both
& here the two kinds of places merge into one
when I piss at the edge of a dry boulder field
I hear the splash of water into water

Dolly Sods is still beautiful still teeming with life
despite its horrific usage by arrogant humans
who saw nothing but timber, pasturage
& a bombing range during World War II
natural extremity makes it at once more vulnerable
& more likely to resist the tendency of the badly used
to become ugly common & mean

& I know nothing, I think, suddenly ashamed
of my inability to look beyond wounds to
the grace & power of the wounded
which includes virtually every part of this land
which has been your land and my land for far too long
& needs to be its own land again

an interpretive sign explains how
wind-tortured red spruce trees grow branches
only on the leeward side for decades until
other spruce grow in around them & then
they knot their roots together among the rocks
gather stillness & the spongy beginnings
of new humus between their trunks
make a place too moist for lightning
to strike a spark & then all together
they rise up

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on the drive home the edge of my concentration
grows blunt as a butter knife
which is to say I lose my temper
& my ordinarily kind companion loses hers
& we ride in silence for a while
discoveries made in a mountain state
must not be transferable
I think glumly
everything we found remains behind

but the truth turns out to be otherwise
because unbeknownst to us
three craneflies got into the car at the last stop
before our long descent
& we can’t get rid of them
rolling down the window at the strategic moment
only blows them into the back of the car
& though for a while we think they’re gone
eventually they reappear
dancing in front of the windshield on flimsy wings
their long legs dangling & we give up
& laugh & let them ride & by the time
we get back I’ve forgotten all about them

I carry my gear into the house unpack & sit out
on my front porch watching the fireflies blink
under a second-quarter moon
until my eyes won’t stay open any longer

where state lines fall is an accident of history
& come to think of it I have yet
to leave the mountains
we will keep on returning whichever way we travel
the mountain state is still there & so are we

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