Poetry

Ascent

D. Nurkse

Six years ago I climbed Mount Tabor. At the trail head I passed a child who had lost his dog. He was in tears. Little help, mister, he said. He was crying too much to call the dog’s name. Would I do that on the way up, and keep an eye out as I climbed?

Though the path was steep, stony, and empty, I shouted that name to the rhododendron, then the birch. Passing the tree line was like stepping out of a dream. I hollered and tried to keep my voice enticing, though even to me it sounded perfunctory. In the moraine, that summons began to echo back, confused with my ragged breath. Heedless of an avalanche, I called to the screes, the cirque, the abyss, the summit. On the way down, breath came easier, and I tried not to cheat, not to quicken to a trot. When I came to the parking lot I was hoarse. It was night. All the cars were gone.

Apparently in those six hard winters I have grown old. The French call it “un coup de vieux.” Mount Tabor is ninety-eight miles away now, no bigger than an eyelash. Yet it seems to give off light, brighter at night.

Should I have stayed in the dark wood and called that child—I never knew his name—child, child? At the time, I left thinking I had more than fulfilled my part of a bargain.

Now it seems I shall have to scale that mountain again. Not as it was, granitic and sheer, but as it is, an eyelash, a nail clipping. I shall have to find a path.

D. Nurkse is the author of Love in the Last Days.
Originally published:
June 28, 2021

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