Height Is the Distance Down

By Mary Barnard 1909–2001 Mary Barnard
What’s geography? What difference what mountain   
it is? In the intimacy of this altitude   
its discolored snowfields overhang half the world.

On a knife rim edge-up into whirlpools of sky,   
feet are no anchor. Gravity sucks at the mind   
spinning the blood-weighted body head downward.

The mountain that had become a known profile   
on the day’s horizon is a gesture of earth   
swinging us above falling spaces, above   
a map of the world. Disturber of the unseen,   
provoker of the gusts in which we bend   
struggling against destruction gaping eastward.
The wind fails. The breath held. The illusion of death.   
The resisting shoulder unopposed lurches   
west in innocent still air, as steep, as deep.

Mary Barnard, “Height is the Distance Down” from Collected Poems (Portland: Breitenbush, 1979). Used by permission of the Estate of Mary Barnard.

Source: Poetry (February 1944).


This poem originally appeared in the February 1944 issue of Poetry magazine

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February 1944
 Mary  Barnard


Mary Barnard was born in Vancouver, Washington and attended Reed College where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1932. Her works include A Few Poems (1952), The Mythmakers (1966), Three Fables (1975) and Nantucket Genesis: The Tale of My Tribe (1988). She was awarded Poetry Magazine’s Levinson Award in 1935, the Elliston award for her book Collected Poems (1979), the Western States Book Award in 1986 for her book Time and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Landscapes & Pastorals, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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