In the Mountains by Laurel Benjamin


In the Mountains
              Rocky Mountains, after Pablo Neruda’s “Walking Around”
by Laurel Benjamin

It so happens that I live in the mountains
with goats’ many-directional hair and
white cliffs until June
when I leave forever
the expansive hoary spectacles
which magnify each moraine.

The scent of my friend the coyote reminds me,
his saliva full of punctured granite—
on his smooth journey up boulder faces
he has spied monkey flower and blue columbine
knows no misery in his haunt.

It so happens that I circle the top
where tourists drive on interstate highway elevation
over 12,000 feet, no blossoms on new snow—
the sign says “Sensitive area. Keep off.”

I would feel lucky rolling the dice
over in Nevada, but I don’t believe
in the root and the saw
or series of mishaps—
I have as much power as I’d like
have seen the corpses of elk
bones run raw after winter
candelabra for mourners
in a dining room for the wealthy.

I don’t want to go on
with the song I was raised to sing
winging close to stars until I can no longer
rise, until I can stretch my fabric no more.

I want what the past offers
unrealistic, impossible, whipped cream,
nuts, a cherry, and caramel sauce
on top of toasted almond ice cream,
knotty pine cabin beside a Spring river
which catches the same branch over and over,
chairs facing each other
pad of paper and a pen
cup of hot tea.

That’s why I’m branded for life—
someone etched it into my bones
before I left the hospital
never a cheery word from the nurse
and the curtains
stripes one way, circles the other
dripping of coffee candies
not the purple sours my father loved.

And it pushes me on in spite of
this weight—the message of attachment—
is it need, assertion, hopelessness, or hope?

There are valleys I have never seen
between mountains I have never traveled
with a different kind of sedge,
words none can read
except the scholars—

I climb even if I don’t want to
without and within, fescue and horseshoe,
where moose look up and return to feeding
instead of hiding behind the drain of some bush,
where the ring-necked duck
bobs at the same time as its mate
rather than keeping watch.

I climb rather than stay
where there is only dry grass,
empty yards, discarded recycling pails,
scissors, nail file
electric toothbrush
the bed, the chair—
where there are walls, gardens,
peacocks, and crows.

PHOTO: Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada. Photo by James Wheeler, used by permission.

NOTE: The Rocky Mountains stretch 3,000 miles from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico in the Southwestern United States.  The Rocky Mountains formed 80 million to 55 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny, in which a number of plates began sliding underneath the North American plate. Of the 100 highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains, 78 are located in Colorado, 10 in Wyoming, six in New Mexico, three in Montana, and one in Utah.

Rocky Mountains

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I spent ten days hiking in May one year in the Rockies, and was astounded by the wildlife. Neruda helped me give form to the narrative.

PHOTO: The author hiking in the Rocky Mountains.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laurel Benjamin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s PoetryCalifornia Quarterly, The Midway Review, among othersShe is affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and the Port Townsend Writers. More of her work can be found at

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