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Breath & Shadow

Fall 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 4

"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

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