Starlight, Mountains

Some evenings, looking out across the pass,
one can mistake a porch light for a star;
a common lamp of filament and glass
will shine with such a clarity that Mars
and Venus seem its match; and it will rise
as if to trail its billion brethren there
into the crowded, turning, star-spilt skies
one only sees at altitude—thin air
and isolation sharpening the night.

Already the horizon is erased,
stone cliffs and snowfields liquified to black,
stark mountain summits easily effaced
by nightfall; and within this liquid dark,
the pressure underneath one’s feet the last
surviving frame of reference, in a world
of space, and pinpoint lights, glittering past
infinity—the Milky Way unfurled
from here, by one bright star and simple sight.

A pity to discover the mistake—
that star too fixed, too steady, holding low
upon the pass, when, higher, toward the peaks,
a subtle movement and the faintest glow—
enough to bring the mountain rushing back
in all its cold solidity: a jeep
negotiating switchbacks in the dark,
tight to the cliffs, inching along a steep
descent, a trail more suited for a mule,
the tension visible miles from the tracks;
just one missed tread, and that small, shining jewel
would be a falling star, throwing off sparks
of accidental beauty, until light.

This poem first appeared in West Wind Review, and was later reprinted in Raintown Review.

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