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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