Photo by Peak Publications
Photo by Peak Publications

Two Haiku of Miles

Song for the rucksack pilgrims
Vagabonds castouts bohemians
Who walked free of the bistros
Out upon the land searching for a source
Homage to the reckless and prodigal

Lowell Mass. at Kerouac's grave—Ti Jean
There was a daisy beside beercans
Left as comradely warmth
I picked the flower and tucked it
In a small white envelope—no reason

Our packer dream had been Matterhorn
The range that year blocked and snowbound
We'd turned instead at Pinecrest for 42 miles
Of tramping pressing underfoot the slave's meek tred
Ate coho salmon and dusty trail heat

Some four said climb it next year
Nimble shortstop Tom
Big Mike with a song and a vow
Don his skill and swollen knee
Myself the wordless follower

The year flew past like an augury
Promises become truer than fact
I stood among trail books and maps in a fancy warehouse
Horse creek was closed from deep snow
Crown Lake and Peeler the long way—34 miles

Do you have crampons and rope the guide now said
Better go Peeler and take the Southern side
I walked in the crease of giant mountains
That threw up ridges lakes and granite peaks
Streams roots behemoth stone—the patient thought of Earth

At first light West to Barney Lake
Crossing the flats and fords under high pines
Their tops tipped together to mask the mountains
Suddenly by the water—a woman bowing her yoga morning worship
In the distance she was raising her arms—at the sun rays' rising?

Lost at the fork to Crown Lake or Peeler
I heard voices—L.A. Mexicans strode up
Shorts shirtless laughing
They shared their map—see you there!
Have a good hike! Heart men!

Deep Peeler Lake was cobalt blue as Crater
Pulling winds gave cool—I loaned my filter
They drank and shouted let's give Bill our map!
Myself Natty Bumppo Pathfinder—Ha!
Stranger with a fifty-pound pack

On back to the fork and up to Crown Lake
Met a sturdy camper who said take Mule Pass
To huge Matterhorn Canyon he'd just come out of there
Quite a little hike he smiled and sweated
It was early afternoon only ten uphill miles so far

Through Crown and Anchor Lakes among the god-thrown boulders
I looked down at the Sierra as far as I could see
Aside the promontory, up Mule Pass, a tiny climbing figure walked
Smooth-faced grim in an outback hat
Making the switchbacks with no strain

I gazed at the circle of peaks with this bitter girl
Diagonally across the Canyon looking blue with distance
Was the fortress Matterhorn, gargantuan totems at the peak
Six and a half miles at least she said
She'd traversed the saddle beside called Burro Pass

On either side the saddle were sentinels presences
Twin Peaks — the tiny swale Burro — and Finger Peaks to Southeast
Then set apart by sheer drops granite Matterhorn
Receding at the heights like a pyramid
The wooded valley lay far below the sawtooth cuts and points

Too late today so down into nightfall the streams roared by
Which way to Matterhorn? Up this trail five miles
Grinned the woman and two men; then in the next camp
Standing on a rock a Portuguese woman: the simple dignity in her hips
Take Burro then South you'll see the Fingers—good luck

Five miles up the valley in pre-morning light my car on my mind
Tomorrow's obstacle if this day waved me through
I balanced on the rock slide with a Tai Chi stick
Gravel and chunks pitched down gathering speed
Scouted the sheer face the Fingers speared up a thousand feet

Nowhere to stand North or East but on the South the place of action
I stuck my stick in a crevice and ascended
The colossal rock Fingers angling toward morning sun
This was no bounding rock to rock
It was living life and death

My mystic Climber didn't think but carried me
It would take into afternoon and Judith waited a call
I'd never make it back to camp by dusk but I'd come for this
Here it was the heights the reason
And nothing was here not even a bird

Scrambling ledge to ledge I was saved four times
By an old foothold, my stick, by strength and speed of hand
The Mystery gets closer in the mountains
When I chose wrong the wind blew me back
There is a salvation beyond understanding

But when I saw over the last split monolith
Only air
The sun shone on the snow a thousand feet down
Twenty miles off: the surveyed land and its fences

And far beyond this range
Boundary Peak in Nevada fifty miles
Burro Pass miniatured at 11,000 feet
Mind spreads out into the void
Of this world of mountains and winds

I buried the graveyard flower by a mossy rock
Jack there is no end of travelling
Wind gusts took my breath
I photographed the sun pale cliffs
Then descended with my stick to the warm wet ground

Alone in the Matterhorn at three boneweary
I slept with ants apanicked nearby
But rose to eat and go back the seventeen miles
Uphill three miles to Mule Pass
And down in faded light between the ranges

The moonless dark moved West as I tramped to the fork
Meaning seven miles more lit by the Great Bear
Billion suns fly South the way of the Dreamer
Two hours the flashlight shone across fords and paths
Until the ghosty trailer park—I'm lost among these shiny things

Youths on bicycles at the camp said everything's closed
Hey you just off the Mountain?
Yeah the voice croaked the flashlight worked
Circled three times before I saw the road
To Bridgeport and a mythic motel

In the bar the hardlipped waitress wasn't hard
She softly stepped close and spoke the truth
Nothing anywhere tonight it's Saturday
The prostitute looked down from the window
Walked to the other side of the bed she had a guest

No room at the inn no room at four or five
So it was the car back-seat at the Forestry Station
And waking early to avoid the cops
Breakfast at the only place in town—the lady asked what?
When I sought a mechanic for the car

Not until eight at least she said
It was six I ate and left my change
Shifted the distributor cap filed the points
Ninety per-cent power for the steep Sonora Pass—Ha!
The survival Marines at their chopper watched me speed by

I'd walked those miles on five hummed steps
And was the membrane of pulling song
No need to falter the numbers don"t
And what does it mean—nothing
Just being carried along

When the mountain is close
It's boulders then rocks
And above the rocks empty air
There is no mountain
But mountain mind makes

Eight hours home to her cool living room
Where together were Judith Avrah Ken — say, JAK
I Ker(ried) (y)ou (b)ac(k)
And I was borne on upon a blessing:
The sun woman bowed and raised her arms

WJ Ray

Heading out to the Lost Coast - 1987
Returning from Matterhorn 1994

Click below to hear WJ Ray reading
"Two Haiku of Miles" with musical background:

Statman and Grisman, " Scholem Aleichem", Songs of Our Fathers, Acoustic Disc, 1995

or Click here to Download Mp3

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