"Come This Way, He Said, And I Followed Him"
through a clearing and along a well-worn path
to avoid descending large black lava rocks
we would have to switchback our way down.
Basalt so slippery a misstep could mean
a broken ankle. I didn’t question the word
short cut. It meant a kind of reprieve from,
a nuanced name for the kind of invalid
I’d become, one who couldn’t, even with hiking
boots, climb down a hill alone. A Jill
who would come tumbling after, a Jack
who’d hold my hand, steady my body
against his own, navigate terrain once
ocean floor: pillow basalt. Where before
we’d slowly and steadily seen the town
come into focus—its churched roofs and alleys,
Peoh Point on the other side, the sky
emblazoned with the same sun as always
only hotter—this time we would bypass
any chance of lost footing by continuing on.
Short was good, short meant shorter.
Instead the trail grew down and up terrain
engineered for bikes and horses, through
birch and alder; alder and fir, on until
even without my saying he knew how tiring
the weight of pain in hip and sacrum, bulging
discs—this appendage called body—he knew
“Come this way…” stanza break
a little less than before about why
and how difficult a simple August day
away from home could be. As far
as we’d come, I felt the sweating trees,
and thirsted for the end of things, though
perhaps he didn’t know that much, how pain
changes a person, wrapped like ivy
or morning glory around the cord called spine.
The story never ends, it goes on
even now that short cut’s become a joke
between us, one he uses affectionately,
as if to tell me it doesn’t matter
how long the thing will hold out—infra-
structure of what never had nerves before,
walking upright, walking, walking onward
into the state we call unknown, our not
having a map of the future perhaps
enough to keep the road to home intact.
Judith Skillman is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets and Artist Trust. She has authored sixteen collections of poetry. Her new book is The Truth about Our American Births, Shanti Arts Press. Work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, Zyzzyva, We Refugees, and other journals and anthologies. Due to being hit by a car as a pedestrian Skillman is disabled. Visit www.judithskillman.com