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).