Above the Snow Line
The demarcation begins—those who are ill go on
With one shoe, one bare foot flapping from their pajama leg.
Those who are well sit beneath a tree still green,
Reasonably comfortable, though the ground is strewn with scree
And odd-shaped rocks the glacier didn’t find, couldn’t smooth
Before tossing them into the moraine.
I want to discuss the ones who continue upward
Before they forget their names, their countries, their beloved,
The meadows of alpine flowers where a butterfly once opened
Its wings. Yes, it’s precious to think of life this way,
As having a point fixed like a star with any meaning.
The ones who are ill will scratch their wounds, and tumors
Spread, metastasize the brain and the eyes until the black patch
Is put on reluctantly, passively, without aggression. Those
Fellows—we hear their screams once they’re out of sight,
Wonder at the fall from which crevasse, and how unseemly to die
In one’s flannels, without even a rope, a piton, a karabiner
With which to jumar up the face of the cliff. Or a comrade
To yell down from above—Are you there? The ones
On the ninety-degree slope pitch forward, as oxygen thins,
Roots disappear and even the ancestors’ voices are silenced
By wind. Above the snow line this happens, flesh
Turns to ice instead of dust, faces remain beneath an inch-
Thick mirror, sickness disappears. We who are well sit
On thick coats to cushion ourselves from the earth, its uneven surface
Still bare, not cold enough to turn water into a white slate
Of erasure. We think of life this way or that, wane metaphysical
As a finger of moon passes overhead from east to west,
The day moon, same color as that into which our friends—
How could we not have known it was the end for them?—walked
Uncomplaining at first, willing to shoulder the load, to hoist
A backpack full of ropes and pears higher on their backs
As they walked. Perhaps they are singular although we remain
Plural. I want to speak to them as if each one had disarmed me
With his or her malignancy, unknown at the time of departure
for the great imaginary adventure.
After Winter Solstice
Still it comes early, sun setting over a lake.
It glows as if encaustic, a yellow trance
we embrace. Take the days—holy and dark,
how they fatigue us as they pass, our dance
a term, the “hellidays.” We flirt with age.
Then maybe a day comes when we’re certain
we’re old. How many times around the sun
can a body fly? Tongue-tied, gravitas
and honor small for a painful life lived
without having asked for the privilege.
Nonetheless there’s beauty. Its star hovers
above the water glowing from within.
Too far gone to turn back we become sin-
gular, my pursuit beeswax, yours VR.
About the Poet
Judith Skillman’s new collection is House of Burnt Offerings from Pleasure Boat Studio. Her work has appeared in Tampa Review, Poetry Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She has taught Humanities at many colleges and universities and has collaboratively translated poems from Italian, Portuguese, and French. Visit www.judithskillman.com.