Jusqu’à la fin du monde

by Timothy Murphy

i.m. Alan Sullivan, 1948-2010

I. Mount Washington

Skis lashed to their racks,
mad motorists careen
to Tuckerman’s Ravine.
Skis strapped to their backs,
they climb four thousand feet
to schuss that fabled run.
Warmed by New England sun
two goatish boys in heat
lock eyes.
                I see them rise,
rise to resume their climb—
the tall test of the peak
and the sea-glimpse they seek
from a rock white with rime.

II. Two Climbers

Shedding our heavy packs,
we thought it no great feat
to storm a vertical mile,
then beat a steep retreat.

Our trails?  Now needle tracks
from an infusion chair.
Gamely, he feigns a smile
just to ascend a stair.

III. Black Joe Lake

It’s a hard hike, not a ride,
the climb to Haystack Mountain.
I used needle-nosed pliers
to flatten the barb on my fly.
The trout wouldn’t quit hitting.
A gale was at my back,
and oh how I flung that fly!

Switchbacking down the creekbed
with cutthroat in my creel,
glissading down the snow,
I was aloft, afloat.
Remembering that, I feel
a Linda Ronstadt song
rise in my thirsty throat.

At the tent my brother goat
dug out the lemon pepper
and olive oil from his pack.
I recall Trout Amandine
poached on the just-west side
of Wyoming’s Great Divide
before we hit the sack.

IV. Apart

Alan, each year I grow more overwhelmed
by memory, much as a sloop we helmed
was laid flat by the gust front of a squall.

I dream we walk the fields we owned, and all
the grasses whisper snatches of a song,
its making now nearly four decades long.

V. Epiphany

Terns from another world.
Failing, he heard them screech,
beckon him as they twirled
over his stretch of beach.

Breeze blew from the land,
and softly fell the swell
at low tide on the sand,
low tide for him as well.

A hard shell is the self.
They sang, “You are not alone.”
The continental shelf
sounded the pedal tone.

VI. Ride Together

You feed a cold, he knows, but starve a cancer.
His pipe-stem arms, ribbed to a swollen belly,
the victim of his failing diuretics,
his abdomen drowning itself in saline—
arms that were once the masters of an orchard,
loppers of limbs, and builders of our bonfires,
arms that steadied me up a snow-choked chimney
on Squaretop, where we viewed the ice on Gannet,
its glacier shrinking in Wyoming summer—
arms that hoisted our mainsail to the masthead,
grinders of winches, trimmers of our headsails—
those arms embrace me now, while in his brown eyes
my blue eyes blur.  The mirror is too distant.
All that my loins recall, let it be nameless.

Says he: “A last request.  Do not dishonor
my memory by drowning in your whiskey.”

VII. So, like a shattered column…

You, with your dreams of casting off the lines
tethering me—pinned on a leeward shore
where on dramatic nights tornadoes roar
             and your designs
to free me from the prairie are no more
than rowing in a circle with one oar—
waste on a beach in Florida.  A barge
bearing three Queens steers for the dusky pier,
             embarks its charge
          and sets its sails to clear
the bar, leaving behind Sir Bedevere.

VIII. Psalm 22
“I am no man, a worm.”
Shortened, the life he loathes
and loves draws to its term.
“They portioned out my clothes.”
“Thou hast forsaken me,”
man in his anguish cries.
Christ on Calvary?
David in Jahweh’s eyes?
“My God, you heed me not.
You drew me from the womb.”
Suffering is our lot.
Rock, roll from the tomb.

IX. The Translator
Nearing the end he wanted to give thanks
for foxhole faith and a last-minute turning,
thanks for the heart whose coals he nightly banks,
knowing that dawn will find his ardor burning
     whether he dies or lives.
     What he can give, he gives
to King David, patriarch of his yearning.
Six weeks to live have turned into a year.
His fevers render David into measure.
There are eight psalms to go. What is to fear?
Revenge for looting of a dragon’s treasure?
      It’s literature’s loss
      but no death on the cross
this patient suffers at his Father’s leisure.
Few of us grapple with the Holy Spirit.
Grant me more time, Lord, I’m forever trying
to hide in corn rows,  then behind me hear it,
the dove flying from water, cooing, crying:
      “Faith.  Yours to inherit.
      Death. Yours, you must bear it.
Let you prove worthy of your lover’s dying.”

X. Tête Rouge Cache

Had I a wooden ship
to bear my love from me,
I’d fire it at its slip,
then warp it out to sea.
Or must I strew his ashes
on wild Wyoming passes
climbed in the Seventies?
The thought of that abashes
me and my aching knees.
He’ll sleep in prairie grasses
under his apple trees.


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