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Milton by Firelight

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Piute Creek, August 1955

“O hell, what do mine eyes
          with grief behold?”
Working with an old
Singlejack miner, who can sense
The vein and cleavage
In the very guts of rock, can
Blast granite, build
Switchbacks that last for years
Under the beat of snow, thaw, mule-hooves.   
What use, Milton, a silly story
Of our lost general parents,
          eaters of fruit?

The Indian, the chainsaw boy,
And a string of six mules
Came riding down to camp
Hungry for tomatoes and green apples.   
Sleeping in saddle-blankets
Under a bright night-sky
Han River slantwise by morning.   
Jays squall
Coffee boils

In ten thousand years the Sierras
Will be dry and dead, home of the scorpion.   
Ice-scratched slabs and bent trees.
No paradise, no fall,
Only the weathering land
The wheeling sky,
Man, with his Satan
Scouring the chaos of the mind.
Oh Hell!

Fire down
Too dark to read, miles from a road   
The bell-mare clangs in the meadow   
That packed dirt for a fill-in   
Scrambling through loose rocks   
On an old trail
All of a summer’s day.

Gary Snyder, “Milton by Firelight” from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. Copyright © 2003 by Gary Snyder. Reprinted by permission of Shoemaker & Hoard Publishers.
Source: No Nature: New and Selected Poems (1992)
Milton by Firelight

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