Mind of the Mountain

Adigan Pass, Alaska

I came upon a man –
A lost man, astride a horse. Snow
Flowed in rivers and the woods cried.
Fire stick in hand, he fought against the
Chill. I stopped and watched –
For he could not see me,
Could not shoot me.
Skittish horse reared, but I
Followed. Circle after circle
We came across our own tracks.
A lost man, lost in his world
And mine. He needed help.

Poison professional – he had stalked
Along the Missouri and
Milk River. Indian whiskey
His prize; we
His buffalo bait.
Strychnine crystals had warmed
Our bellies and liquid life
Had dripped from our tongues.
We had run and could not stand –
A shot. Like cordwood, stacked
Along cabin walls we waited. The Chinook
Melted our skins. And
The Mountains were lonely.

The process of skinning
Was simple. He turned us on
Our backs. His knife split the skin;
Point of the chin to root of the tail.
He slit the hide from our legs –
Peeled it from our ribs
And jerked at our spines.
The bone slipped out of its
Skin as if it were greased.

In the trees, he caught my face.
Raising rifle steady
He braced and froze – ice
Sheeted his hair and cheeks.
Down the sight he peered as I
Breathed one last long sigh. He could see
My fire, the fierce
Green fire burning in my eyes.
He saw my fire, slackened arms and bowed head
Left the rife to fall back.
Along ridge and fence-line
Three lives fled. The horse, the lost
Man, and I fought together.
Though gun in hand, he
Followed where I led.
He had seen my fire, and now
Thought like a Mountain.

Gates and cattle
Close by – a high walled cabin.
Light leapt onto snow banks ahead;
I flew into the night. A shot
Too late to dodge, the hot slug
Seared into smoking flesh.
I ran and could not stand –
I: Three Toes, last of the last
Stumbled into the
Blood reddened snow and
The Mountains were

Fierce green fire;
Burning, now dying in my
Eyes. He was young
And full of trigger-itch.
He thought? –
He thought without me
Would be hunter’s paradise.
The Mountains and I know
He was wrong. A fierce green
Fire died in my eyes –
At his hand. I am gone
And the Mountains are lonely;
The lost man had found his way –
Out of the Chill and out of the mind
Of the Mountains.

-Annie White