Joanna Straughn received her M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Utah in 2002. She was winner of the 2003 Elipsis Prize and has poems forthcoming in Ellipsis, Quarterly West, and The Kenyon Review.
Pika Song at Ten Thousand Feet
Difficult to think at the end of a climb
When the cirque's horizon covers the sun
And nothing is left except breath in your lungs—
There with a man shouldering his pack all day
Damp brow, flushed cheeks, clear lakes, white stones
And Maybird Gulch at the end of a trail.
To rest, on a rock, in the remotest time,
Without the monument of walls,
Walls forgotten in the sky,
And to hear that the songs are pika songs
Ventriloquists of the peak
Throwing their voices across the bluff.
From far off you hear them
Hiding a foot behind you.
Ascending was the simple part,
Columbines to the east, vertigo to the west,
The kind of flying labored walking brings.
Descending in fatigue is harder
As shadows lengthen across our path and down the slope.
We lose our way and argue about it.
Feeling all the while our feet and the load
And some disappointment
That I loved the sight of the road.
A walk in the woods rewards
Because splendor is shy.
A wood thrush trills silk—
A flue agape—
Mountainside to mountainside
Treetop to treetop
Stone to stone.
Its landing bringing with it
The sense of what a bird is to the flower.
Her owlet den
hidden in a wing's shadow
where vines wither
ping a pellet
felted with little
teeth and bones.
The orchard is strewn
with itty-bitty skins.
Leak under low trees
and the mouse
wants to silence
his hammering heart.