Allison Adair: “First Plow at Red Mountain Pass”


11,018 feet below, the ravine does
its gaunt work, bringing matter
back to bone. The mountain sags
with the mass of endless storm
and you’re first up, riding into
the cut. The plow’s gears keen.
You shift, a question
more than a motion. Light
off the snow says morning.

Gravity’s the only other
crew—gristled, wordless—
telling stories so natural
they seem untrue: tree roots
fused to the spine of a bull elk,
sprouting as antlers would,
had the head been left. How the skin
of a flat blue sky pulls taut, from
nowhere, matte, low, bowing
like a cosmic hammock
wet with stars. Then the split, the line
drawn thin by an unseen hand,
blade against pregnant cloud, shamelessly
delivering, spilling out a crowd
of white consonants, an argument
against the darkening afternoon.
We depend on things to fall.

You settle into the springs, no need
to rush the job. From up here
the big questions rattle like trinkets,
man-made things. Guardrails
would only crack or rust. In the dry
collarbone of a mountain, sentences end
with a still body. You’ve come first
after those reclaimed by the dirt, gray limbs
piled upon themselves like sloppy tinder,
and never wondered why
or how, or when. You work
until the work is done.

The woman in your bed
has no trouble sleeping. It’s the slope
of the roof, she says, close
like a child’s blanket
draped across two chairs.
For a few weeks each summer, quaking
aspen leaves turn in
on themselves against the cold
nights. Their wisdom is instinct. But out
on the pass it’s the long season, one wall
of snow resisting the edge, fighting the fall as you
push; the other, a slant plane, mountainside, inclined
to wait, to rest a moment before
its shift begins.

Finger-drifts like smoke
from a coal stove call you
to the tunnel ahead, to the windless
sleeping place, if you can make it
there before the slide, someone
will remember how full
the sky looks from up here
always, how ready,
how still.

Allison Adair’s recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry (2018), Best New Poets, Boston Review, North American Review, Southeast Review, and Subtropics. She teaches at Boston College and Grub Street.

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