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Thursday, August 18, 2011


My wife is an artist.  Her pieces are micrography -- the lines in her drawings aren't lines at all, but very, very tiny (but legible!) writing.  (Check out her website if you want to be amazed!)  Recently she participated in a project that had as its theme "Imaginary Lands" -- so she created a beautiful piece which was a detailed map of a fictional country.  She asked me to write the text for the piece -- the following poem was the result.



Snow falls on the high mountain
That the men below call Carthain; in my language
That no men know
The mountain has no name,
No words; only the silent speech of peaks and ridges
Where the rocky bones stick through the skin,
Where no soft soil sits, no grass grows.
The ice in layers lies for centuries, building up
Like the rings of trees, each line marking a year,
Until weighted, it flows, carrying it downward,
Carving out valleys.  You follow it.

In the summer the valleys fill with light,
And hold it where the wind cannot reach;
And the edges of the glaciers melt,
Streams tumbling between the stones, all blue and white,
Finding the fastest way downhill.
Little flowers bloom where the water touches,
Quickly when the ground warms; for in only a few weeks
The snow will fall again, and the valleys will once more
Know only cold and wind and silence.
You leave before the flowers fall.

The streams join. Water pours off the mountain face,
Rushing downward. Grasses and small flowers give way
To wind-writhen firs, then dark forests.  Elk graze there,
Raising their long, foolish faces to watch as you descend, following the river downward.
Small birds sing high in the branches.  Men come here sometimes,
Hunters, taking the elk if they can, to have food for the winter;
For you are still high up, halfway between the mountain’s top and the sea,
And the winters here are long and bitter.  Further down,
Little towns cling to the river’s edge, no more than huts and barns
And a few dirt roads.  People give them names; that is what people do.
Mill Falls, Moor’s Edge, Black Ridge.  You pass them and drop.

Where the river joins another, then bends to the south,
There a city lies.  Its people call it Torlessit, which meant something
Once, and now none can remember what.  Ox-carts draw wood through the rutted streets.
The smithies ring with hammers.  Draft horses pull plows,
The points gouging grooves in the soil, turning up rocks that a thousand years ago
Were part of the mountain.  Here crops will grow, but winter still comes early,
And the river will freeze in January so that the wolves can cross.
Then the men of Torlessit bring their sheep into the barns
And their children into their houses,
And count the weeks until spring comes.

And when it does, the ice will thaw, and the river will roll once more
Down the hills, past fertile fields, through glades with maple and oak
Past other cities, past stone castles and tall cathedrals;
Warming and slowing as it goes.  It carries you along, no longer tumbling,
But gliding soundlessly in its course.

Broad farms lie here.  Wide fields roll away into the hazy distance.
The summer heat rises from the land, sweat drips from faces tanned
Like leather.
At the height of the day, nothing moves; a fly buzzes, then is silent.
But the silence here is not as the mountain’s silence.
There all is emptiness; here even the air is full and heavy and humid.
The river moves on, between cottonwoods and willows,
Who drop their yellowed leaves, to float along like fallen flakes of sunlight.

The trees rise, close in.  Shadows deepen.
Tendrils of mist curl up from the water’s surface.
Bare trunks reach high, to a canopy shut like a roof.
Downward hang bright flowers and dangling vines,
Hairy and furred with moss.
Birds and butterflies dart jewel-like, just out of reach,
As you slip along, following. The water here is caramel-brown,
The air redolent with spice and honey.  In the forests
The people reach up and take the bounty offered them.
No need for barns and ox-carts and plows,
No need to till;
But only to give thanks for the fruit and fish and the dappled sunlight on naked skin.

The river here is languid, in no rush to finish its journey,
But the end comes eventually;
There is a heavy thunder, distant at first,
Then closer; salt in the air, the cry of sea-birds.  The brown river
Enters the green sea, flowing together, mingling like lovers in a perpetual embrace.


  1. Sounds great. How do I get there?

  2. Beautiful, Gordon. I feel like I was just transported there.

  3. wonderfully described. i can see the surroundings as though i were walking through them. great imagery.