Sloppy with drizzle, cold sweat in my boots,
I backpacked the Cascade Range,
across the muddy western side, a snarl
of low gray clouds strung in the pines like fish line.
A boy barely twenty, swamped
by the impression I wished to make,
fuzzy manhood needing a mountain to boast of,
a wink of regard from my mother’s wild eye.
I don’t know how I strayed—
the trail ended, a scant spur
filched sideways from the scarred mountain
leaked into brush and distance.
Swarming insects, torpid sky, compass useless,
the earth as desolate as the skeleton of a deer,
tines of its stripped ribs clenched.
Sidestepping down the monstrous slope,
I grabbed a tree, a bush, skidded on my belly.
Please don’t let me die—did I believe
the Indifferent Mother might somehow suckle
a helpless beast that could not make its way?
Out of that great circle of the lost I staggered
onto a path, wide and safe, a miracle.
By the time my mother died,
I hadn’t talked to her for ten years.
Something in me rejoiced to see her finished,
safe in the earth, absolved and silent,
perhaps a recipient of the mercy
that alone makes one merciful.
That boy with a basket on his back,
Like an upturned ten-gallon hat.
He has a perturbed, quizzical expression
As he consents to the camera and the Americans
And a single frame out of his whole life
Enters the lens and dies on a piece of paper.
But we were there long enough, in Bergamo,
The town is in us,
And we ourselves are like upturned hats
Filled with the knowledge of a people
Who belong to a place.
We know the iron gate
That opens to the chamber orchestra
Playing Mozart while rain
Darkens the tree trunks.
We know the walk out of town,
The road like one more step,
Only wider, and gray,
Of the delicately terraced hillside
Of the wine that sweetens in the eye of the grape.
—Daniel Bachhuber, St. Paul, MN