Leaving Denali by Sarah Russell

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Leaving Denali
by Sarah Russell

You must leave Denali as you would a lover,
before dawn, while he is blanketed in clouds,
while the sentry spruce and larch, dwarfed
and crippled by his hand, still drowse in mist.
For if they wake, they will whisper your leaving
on the wind. Then Denali will woo you with wild iris
and forget-me-nots, his streams will murmur
your name, and moss will give you velvet for a gown.

But you know Denali’s treachery. You’ve felt
his rimy fingers and the muscle of his rage, climbed
to touch his face until your lungs burned and your feet
gave way, until he proved he was never yours.

PHOTO: Denali and Wonder Lake, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Denali National Park and Preserve.

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NOTE: Denali (also known as Mount McKinley, its former official name) is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. Denali is the third most prominent and third most isolated peak on Earth, after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Located in the Alaska Range in the state of Alaska, Denali is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve. For centuries, the Koyukon people who inhabit the area have referred to the peak as “Denali.” In 1896, a gold prospector named it “Mount McKinley” in support of then-presidential candidate William McKinley; that was the official name recognized by the Federal government from 1917 until 2015. In August 2015, 40 years after Alaska had done so, the United States Department of the Interior announced the change of the mountain’s official name to Denali.

PHOTO: Denali shrouded in clouds. The mountain is high enough to create its own localized weather. Photo ©2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: On a trip to Alaska in 2016, I fell in love with a mountain named Denali—The Great One. Although Denali is generally covered in mist even on sunny days, we were blessed with seeing his grandeur clearly during our stay. I had tears as I left to travel on, and I wrote the first line of this poem. I kept coming back to the writing, but I couldn’t find words that would express what I felt. I finally finished the poem this year. I’m still not sure I did justice to The Great One, but it will have to do for now.

IMAGE: Location of Denali within Alaska.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Russell’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Kentucky Review, Misfit Magazine, Rusty Truck, Third Wednesday, and many other journals and anthologies. A Pushcart Prize nominee, two of her poetry collections have been published by Kelsay Books, I lost summer somewhere  and Today and Other Seasons. Find more of her work at SarahRussellPoetry.net.

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