In the 15th Chapter on Infinity, Try to Arrest One Detail
A cobble of quartz in cemented silt, perhaps, or moss campion—what Nan Shepherd called ‘the clumps of silence.’ For ‘the touch of a pen lends great transparency to shadows’ —that’s Ruskin, who helped us see mountains move. You look as if you’d seen a ghost, somebody said, as I tried to count waves in a cliff face, the ‘perfectly transparent story’ of a fault-block uplift range, two to three miles above sea-level. A fault-block uplift range, that is, from which the first billion years of earth history are missing. ‘Wield the brush lightly’ is good advice, for ‘colour must not be dragged about and disturbed.’ Where color has been dragged about (otherwise known as a thrust fault in sedimentary rock): a confusion of pebbles, cobbles, clasts, bound each to each, in a matrix of gravel, all fed on water: all fed on water, then broken up, up-lifted, inter-tongued, and ‘the quicker a line is drawn, the lighter it is at the ends,’ meaning: ‘more easily joined with other lines,’ more easily joined as rippling sedimentary beds, rainbowed purple, gray, blue—that high, wavy rock on Crestone Peak, or vertical caves above the Swift Creek crossing— reduced, on a map, to heavy black lines with teeth pointing upward, toward the cliff, or what geologists call a hanging wall. On what geologists call a hanging wall what appears to be pointed is always curved, with lines of escape for rock, water, cloud. Lines of escape means ‘talus everywhere— world of grief!’ Believe it when it’s underfoot, or found in an old field-notebook: my handwriting, Ruskin’s words: all distant colour is pure colour, any failure there will at once do away with all remoteness. A terrible price: to begin with Nan Shepherd’s ‘hummocky snow —or was it sea?’ rise to the level of ‘pure and terrible streams,’ wind up with sun-on-snow-means-a-sunburned-throat. ‘When care is at fault,’ Ruskin replies, ‘a little carelessness will help…’ but chance will not help us with the mountain, its ‘fine and faintly organized edge,’ its families of ridges, its sweet moraines— ‘entirely composed of heaps of stones—’ where at times you catch below your feet a glint of water, a trace. ‘Water has no darkness,’ Shepherd says, not even in ‘its most appalling quality,’ its strength. Not even when it fingers down a dark hornblende—gabbro to gneiss— a green-black metamorphic, rising in a headwall the size of a city… skirted with muscovite, chlorite, epidote: green and more green: pebbles and cobbles among gray granite, rose quartz, and a pale tonalite thrust to the very top of a peak. There is no poem here called Lines of Rest, no exercise labeled hill color. Just bullying winds, and a list of facts: the wreckage of ancestral mountains, where ‘light and a state of being are facts.’
‘Slaty crystallines, slaty coherents— is this not marvelous?’ Ruskin declared of a world built on propositions. ‘One is companioned, though not in time,’ she wrote of tracks, and rocks. And once: ‘peering into a lake, I thought it shallow because I could see its depths.’
Susan Tichy’s most recent books are Trafficke (2015) and Gallowglass (2010), both from Ahsahta Press. “In the 15th Chapter on Infinity, Try to Arrest One Detail” is from a forthcoming volume, The Avalanche Path in Summer. Currently writing poems on mountains, coastlines, and island edges, she teaches in the MFA and BFA programs at George Mason University, and when not teaching lives in a ghost town in the southern Rocky Mountains.
Header photo of mountains in Scottish Highlands by Frank Winkler, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Susan Tichy by Gushikawa.