A Literary Series
I was walking across campus recently. It was squint-bright sunny. There were puddles on the ground. The wind was whipping sideways, 30 miles an hour, and something was being carried, blown with it. Snow? Petals from the trees just blooming?
It turns out it was both. Plus rain. Plus hail. When I got upstairs in my building, I could see it out the window more clearly, along with an overcast sky sort of holding the door open for a sunset. Strange. Weather of three minds, weather of contradictions, and what weird month, its hour come ’round at last, slouches out of winter to be born?
Along with April comes National Poetry Month, which makes sense. Poetry is also an Everything Project. So in honor of that, I’m going to cut off this jabber and instead just offer you a poem. If you read my piece “Environmental Studies” published in April 2016, then you’ve seen the first part already. Here it is now whole:
The Mother of the Mountains
If a mama bear gets angry, imagine the Mother of the Mountains.
Mess with Her children, She’ll dust off an avalanche;
step out of line, She’ll realign your bones.
She’s a blue-eyed beauty,
and the mountains have their Mother’s eyes: deep lakes.
Gaze into them, you’ll see their thoughts like fish—
quick schools, slow rainbows—look deeper,
and you’ll learn to dream like a stone.
What does She feed them? Rain for breakfast.
Anything else? She peels them the sun for lunch.
And at night? Big helpings of quiet,
then the Mother of the Mountains sings them to sleep with snow.
The trees are Her grandkids; She brings them birds to play with.
Whenever it’s their birthday, She gives them an owl
’cause though She’s a blue-eyed beauty, She’s still kind.
Even soft… even fragile….
Wolves howl to Her to show their gratitude.
What about you?
Not even the Mother of the Mountains knows
how She was born.
She might have been fire and twilight—fire in the Earth’s womb,
waiting like an egg, and everywhere evening
seeking a way inside.
She might have been fire and ocean.
Or just the answer to fire’s question, Why all this heat?
She can’t remember,
but She wears the colors of those elements:
red and orange and yellow, and under them blue.
She can’t remember.
But Her children are burning rock; we know that much;
and Her love for them is the water we drink
and that love made the valleys we live in….
None of us know where we come from, not really.
Questions climb higher than answers.
Still, the Mother of the Mountains raised Her children up skyward,
giving us places greater than ourselves to look.
Of course She’s happy when they stay together,
but the Mother of the Mountains understands being apart.
You can draw Orion with your eyes each night;
it doesn’t change the fact they’re separate stars.
You can join any group—there are millions—but joining
can’t subtract you; you’re still one.
One peak in the Andes.
In the Himalayas. In the Alps.
One astonishing face of the Tetons.
One shoulder of the Okanogans.
One slender arm
or curving hip of the North Cascades….
But you’re no more beautiful, maybe less, than Mauna Loa
off in the ocean, surrounded by all that blue.
You’re no surer than Kilimanjaro
though he stands apart from a continent,
away and above, like his Mother,
in thinner air.
Sometimes She puts on an eagle’s wings and comes near.
Not often, and not to give us an omen;
eagles and mountains are both brown and white,
and that’s all.
I’ve seen it:
Once, at the summit, She circled above and flew on.
Another time She was riding the wind straight down…
like the wind is a river, like the wind has edges
Then yesterday She perched on the roof of my dream:
my back yard wider, the mountains closer,
the stream running cold
where I’ve always imagined a stream.
I woke up thirsty,
and those first drops splashing on the window screen
made the whole day smell of rain.
It wasn’t a sign. Don’t be an interpreter.
Desire has meaning like a bird has meaning, that’s all.
Who wouldn’t be an eagle? Who hasn’t looked at what they love
and felt a lifting, or gliding, or plunge?
- Bears belong to the mountains, not to us.
- And lakes belong to the mountains, not to us.
- The full moon silhouettes the mountains first,
and when bears bend down to drink, they drink its light.
- Forests are the mountains’ children,
so we’d better write good stories for our shelves,
stories that last as long as trees last, that grow
in widening circles….
- Deer may take from our gardens.
- We get back magic in return:
a small amazement, illusion of floating,
a sudden now-you-see-’em, now-you-don’t.
- Sex at the top of a mountain makes a boy;
at night, on the lakeshore, a girl.
- We can’t ignore what’s happening.
- Feeling’s not a choice. It’s everyone’s job.
- In that hour before daybreak, even a city
might concentrate, might quiet itself awhile
and sense an older, deeper pulse.
The Mother of the Mountains has long red hair, long as the horizon.
Mornings, when She braids it, She sets the new world turning.
Evenings, when She combs it out,
Her hair is the western sky.
It is here, in this night time
that Her dreams come open like the stars.
I like the one about a man and a woman,
how their bodies fit together, and sometimes their minds.
Sometimes the woman has long red hair
and the man is standing at the window
and she crosses the space between them
to look out too….
Sometimes she’s reading at the table,
the words appearing like days—a page at a time;
skip ahead, they’re still empty.
When he asks her what comes next, she doesn’t know.
It is here, in this dreaming, that the Mother of the Mountains
is like us: full of love and aloneness.
And it’s this dream She’s had, about a man and a woman,
if the city wakes blanketed with snow.
When people remember what counts most,
they measure time by their children.
So to speak with the Mother of the Mountains
takes twenty-eight days. You must learn to be patient.
Ask the lynx. It carries that waiting all winter,
then turns that waiting into speed.
Ask the moon, never closing the distance.
Both of them know fullness won’t last long;
there’s always more beginning, more going;
tell the Mother of the Mountains something new.
Tell Her your story if you have to,
but make it tie the river to the wind
and lift up the green smell of moss
and the memory of someone’s body
you never got to touch
and the jumping drum of your heart….
If one day you see a heron—a long blue stillness
at the water’s edge, or a blue impossible flying—
then the Mother of the Mountains did listen.
And Her answer is yes.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.
Header photo by domelaci, courtesy Pixabay.