The Angle of Repose

Unlike the western slopes and save for the Thompson River,

the northernmost edge of the Cascade Mountain Range

is dry and compulsive.  You climb through Engelmann Spruce

and Ponderosa Pine until you break through to a different kind of seeing,

an emptiness in the mind like an umbrella flipped onto its head.  Today,

other than two gray jays who quibble about the price of pine nuts,

there’s no one in sight to mar the stillness.

                                                    At this height

everything, including sound, begins to thin,

the soil, the air, the trees,

but, there, a stand of Larch, would-be saints

quoting scripture from rote memory and whipping themselves

with needled branches, exposing the soft heartwood, the treacle flesh.


Teach me how to pray.

Teach to believe what the dead say.

I want to hear a voice say Maybe when I ask.


You leave the marked trail and clamber over a scree slope,

faith’s angle of repose.  The path

just instinct now, a lake drawn on a map, rock overgrown with lichen:

              Hooded Bone, Devil’s Matchstick, Sulphur Stubble.


Here, wind is a moving meditation, a listening

hollow as a cave dug into the hillside of memory

and memory beaked and raven-tongued.

You hear it cawing at your back, but don’t turn around.

You’ve already left the trees behind and are becoming unbranched,

leafless, the blackened stump of a fire that burned itself out

years ago.  Higher up, something hears its name called

and wakes from a long dreamless sleep.  It stretches

and rises from its hard bier,

near-sighted and hungry.