I did climb up that mountain and wash my hair with snow
I did not leave my regrets there wedged between sagebrush and schist
Before I left the house I did put the limp celery in a glass of water
I did not strip naked when I went into the mountain lake

I did go in so quickly my heart clenched up
I could not unclench it afterward, not even when seized
By my old vertigo as the funicular car dipped and it seemed
We were plummeting straight into the rocks

Not the first time I fell from height, I did one time
Slip on a bar as I was reaching up and fell six feet flat on my back
If I close my eyes tight I can still summon up the light of that morning
Spiking out the back of my head

For a minute I did think I was dead and then for two more I thought
‘I am alive? But I forget what that means’
Stumbled like a ghost through a building whose edges seemed to quiver
Same as the funicular cables bearing us now creepily down

Elliot climbed up with us but hiked back down,
He did not want to get into that steel sky-stabbed car
I can’t soar, I haven’t learned very much in my life, I’ve just become a more
Choreographed disaster, aren’t I supposed to know something now

Nah brah says the mountain with that classic stony expression
I did learn to play cards with my cousins when I was very young
I did not ever let them win
I did finally toughen up, become beast-like though not unpleasant

I did not give up my desire to have bedroom eyes and medusa hair
I did eat the celery stalks when I came back, a little sun-dazed, a little cloud-proud
I did not drink enough water and so spent all evening trying to speak in tongues
Still lake-shocked, I did try to invent an excuse to stay

I did not steal June snow to bring back down though my hands itched for it
Coldness and scratches on my body reminded me I am no animal
A bell rings somewhere within neither church nor alarm klaxon
I did unfold the overheard bars of the sky so fully unseen

And clamber across the night hand over hand on starry rungs
I do not know what prayer may allow me to return to a place that teaches death
So I do now risk my wind-tossed fate on one last chancy gambit
To the final clause of bedrock I stake no human claim

 

Photograph © Danielle Henry

The Peripatetic Penelope Fitzgerald
Speed Dating the Man Booker Longlist | Discoveries