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The Gorge 

The gorge is far off atop the wild glen,
a titanic slit.
Water marauds its way through the black rock,
a boiling boisterous white onrush.
Moss and lichen green the sopping terraces of slate.
Great pallors of mist whorl up from the crashing waterfalls
and their Brancusi shoulders.
I ascend the gorge laboriously, past interminable cascades and cataracts;
icicles, tall as trees, threaten my head.
They are silver organ pipes.
Here and there, the stone trail curls behind the vapor smoke,
or up through a cavern, black as pitch.
I retrieve a sharp wedge of slate
and wield it as an adze to hack away at the ice under foot.
In places, there is zero traction.
I slip backward often and have to recover lost ground on my hands and knees.
Belatedly, I remove the gems from my fingers.
Hours elide into one another, indistinguishable,
like my skids backward.
Solitary leaves, the colors of walnut and mahogany, lie embedded in the ice and snow,
as if they were pieces of waxed wood.
The ice-cocooned leaves are brittle as parchment.
The trail is steep and steeper still.
It is nearly day's end when I reach the highest crag; the gorge towers before me.

The sky is pink and green, bright as opals.
I'm sweating hard, gulping air, breasts heaving, bra soaked,
but feeling exultant. Object attained!
"In front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat," said Hesiod,
"and long and steep is the way to it, and rough at first.
"But when you come to the top, then it is easy, even though it is still hard."

I drop my rucksack and settle on the piney floor;
steam rises from my caftan, issues from my lips.
I sit still a long time,
and take in the vistas, resting my seared lungs.
The sun is in retreat, about to abandon the horizon;
Rembrandt's bronzy shadows loom.
I swig arctic-cold vodka.
I love its spirituous fragrance; it frostbites my tongue, a lolling eel.
My ravenousness from the climb is sated.
I sit empty-headed for a time.
I quaff another vodka. Fiery heat in my gizzard.
Ahh! Body at rest, mind calm, animal appetites satisfied.
The whoosh of water is reassuring.
Suddenly I yearn to be fly fishing,
the river whirling around my man-hungry thighs,
the line threading swiftly from the reel, undressing it for the encounter.
Nothing but the sound of water and the plash of fish:
Reticence, discretion, civility.
There are no calendars here, no timepieces.
What watch can tell geological time?

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Paul Mann

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