"Come This Way, He Said, And I Followed Him"

Written By

Judith Skillman

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