Friday, March 12, 2010

Poem for HB

Poem for HB

Bad heart, bad legs, bad weather
Did not keep you off the mountain

You said no matter what mountain
You are on
You can always see the next one

A lifetime of mountains is not enough,
One more summit, one more handhold,
One more sunrise smeared across the windshield
On a slow winter morning,
Almost wrecking the car
Because you saw another mountain
You had not climbed

You fooled them, bushwhacked
The wilderness of
Fading arteries,

To climb another mountain
Before the heart stutters,
The boots fray and the mind finally forgets that
Which you swore should never be forgotten:

One ancient stump with springboard notches,
One old snag leaning against
The cold silk of a winter sky

You stopped and wondered: what happened
To those loggers? Where did they go?

You know what happened to the loggers.
You know what happened to the trees.
And you know what will happen to us.

I look at the photograph
Of the first mountain you climbed
After surgery, your tracks in the snow
Heading to the summit like a grin and I ask:
Who will come after you?
Who will remember the loggers
That hauled their heavy gear up impossible mountains?
Who will remember the fresh green stink
Of fallen cedar and the hot white hands of booze?
Who will remember the smoky rooms
And the women who smelled like blackberries?

You know that the men who are afraid
To live, live anyway.
You will not
Wait for the lights in the mind
To go out, one by one

You will not drift down the
Slow river
Of nursing homes, clutching oxygen tubes and
Climbing to some awful summit.

When you fall, you will fall
With a piece of the mountain
Under your fingernails

So you might as well tussle
For one more kiss, or work out
A system for the lottery
You might as well
Walk out of the house
And climb into your car,

You might as well drive to the mountains
Get out of the car and leave the headlights on
And start walking,
You might as well take the trail the loggers
Took those cool blue mornings before
The sun came up,

You might as well reach out
And touch the fog and feel the sleek hours
Of the morning rubbing against you
Like a lover as you head toward some
Summit you have never seen.

Karen Sykes (Waring)


  1. A life well lived, Karen!
    Thanks for the poetry, the beautiful photos and the trail adventures!

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  3. Karen,
    I remember H.B. He was a cantankerous old man you found charmingly abrasive for a while. I think this poem has turned into one about you - "When you fall, you will fall with a piece of the mountain under your fingernails." Ol' Harry probably never saw this poem - poets don't write odes to others, they write about those things known only to their own hearts; they just don't realize it. Here you have met up with yourself.
    Thanks for all the good times.