Poems and Texts

“[Climbers]” by Sasha Smith

[Climbers]

I.

Straddling— top-top. It is not remarkable that Chen died.
The traffic jam, the six bodies, the search. I say thank you
for telling me that Chen died. Down the mountain, he went.
Thirty feet below. Four hundred above. Another hump
of rock and ice, and Sherpas who smile into snow-crusted beards.
They call them the icefall doctors. They are paid for everything:
for the ladders laid over gaps, for the rods with rope, for the trails.
If it echoes, the ice will give way. If it echoes, do I run?
There are icefall doctors in the icefalls, frozen, folded into glacial gaps.
Underfoot, crackling. Loud, like trees popping out of place.
Staring down steep-steep ice straight down, there is a static rope
to hang me. A tether with tension, ready to fling me. A neon noose.
The both of us shattered: the ice and I— eyes rising & such— the shattered
between us are marked by anchors, mocked by pickets, stabbed
and twisted, screwed into ice. The slopes are filled with dreams,
or dreamers stuck in corpses, or dreamy scenic frames, or no dream
at all. The Englishman and the Indian are both dead. So now
we inspect. Compare frost nipped fingers to incipient frostbitten toes.
The cold chops-chops. “I’m fucked,” then takes bare structures
frozen flesh, frozen black on the inside, frozen pink white tendon,
until the whisper out is half hot breath, half chilled frost, and the blood
crystal to veins. Pull the sleeping bag over and bite the wind,
or take the winds bite, or swoon. “Once you recover,” the bits
will melt away, the larynx will shake free, and on and on
to the next camp until the radio breaks. So Chen is dead.

II.

Mountain madness to people who don’t climb mountains
is the Inhale-Exhale. The right foot, then left. The whistling
suction of empty lungs filling, spilling over, burning trails
from chest to biceps, thighs to throat— not the rush! not Thrill!
What I was doing was recognizing the seriousness of purpose.
Halfway up, side to side— jammed— slamming ice-ax to ice
a sixth, a seventh, an eight time, I pause. Wait-Wait.
At camp I chop ice. Axe to ice. Rusted metal to old mountain until old mountain
gives way, or packed snow can be pocketed, bagged in glass shard packages,
melted to purified water, bottled and boiled and stewed. “More, More.”
Four breaths, four heaves, three grunts and a swallow. Burned chest, singed
muscles, a lift and a fall, then a crash, and a sweep, then slashed, and then ice.
It is dry everywhere and everywhere is filled with water,
And everywhere is mounted in rock until snow creeps up our boots
swallows our knees, bites into our thighs and warms the fat in our hips
with the chilled kiss and promise of sleep. Even the water welled in our eyes
freeze. Capture us in mid blink, sticks the lid to the mucus, holds the mucus until
hard, makes the hardness sound like ripping, rips the lashes till they transplant,
then hum and vibrate from shut to spastic to desperate, then free.
The canyon fills with cloud. The mist and fog return.
Fluid pushes the brain, rushes up and touches every bent angle
of cartilage/bone with no warning, little fuss, until it wakes a day
late: drunk, inversely flipped, from the harness and the buckle down.

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