Ed Harkness

 

Saying the Necessary

 

I read of a Montana man
whose pickup
stalled in the mountains.
Cross-country skiers
found him next spring,
their skis rasping
on the top of his cab
just showing through the snow.
His engine dead, no map,
he’d apparently decided
to wait for help.
His diary calmly records
his life of being lost.
He describes the passing days,
how he rationed his crackers,
an Almond Joy,
built a few small fires at night,
ate his emergency candles,
ice from a pond,
a pine’s green lace of moss.
He hoarded every spark
from his battery.
There’s evidence he wandered
up a nearby ridge.
He might have noticed a marmot,
gold and relaxed on a rock,
or spotted mountain goats
wedged high in grey basalt.
From a pinnacle of broken
lichen-colored scree
he watched the world bend away blue,
rivered with trees.
He might have heard
the whine of a plane
in the next valley,
looking, looking.

Then the cold came.
Frostbite settled the matter
of hiking out.
He wrote detailed accounts
of the weather,
noting the clear, icy air,
little flares of stars
drawing no one’s attention.
Not so frigid this evening.
A later entry read:
Ribbed cirrus clouds moving in.
Then tender goodbyes
to his wife and daughter–
my lilac, my rose.

When the blizzard buried him,
he wrote by his interior lights,
and when the battery failed
he scratched in the dark
a strange calligraphy,
covering the same pages,
the words telegraphic,
saying only the necessary
as he starved.
In the end,
his script grew hallucinatory–
…toy train…  …oatmeal…
…farmhouse lights just ahead…–

illegible, finally,
like lines on a heart monitor.
Several pages he tore out and ate.

He must have known
even words wouldn’t save him.
Still, he wrote.
He watched the windshield
go white like a screen,
his hands on the wheel,
no feeling.
He listened to his heart
repeat its constant SOS,
not loudly now,
but steadily–
a stutterer who’s come to love
the sound of his one syllable,
at peace with his inability
to get anything across.
He must have pictured himself
wading through the drifts,
traversing the heartbreaking distance
between voice and any ear,
searching for tracks,
a connector road that leads
down to everyday life.
By glow of moonlight filtered
through snow-jammed windows,
his last act was to place his book,
opened to a page marked Day One,
on the passenger seat beside him.

 

Ed Harkness is the author of several poetry chapbooks, including Fiddle Wrapped in a Gunny Sack (Dooryard Press, 1984), Watercolor Painting of a Bamboo Rake (Brooding Heron Press, 1994), and most recently Syringa in Twilight (Red Wing Press, 2010). Pleasure Boat Studio has published his two full-length poetry collections, Saying the Necessary (2000), and Beautiful Passing Lives, (2010). His poems can be found in print journals including Fine Madness, Great River Review, The Humanist, Midwest Quarterly, Portland Review, Seattle Review and others. His work has also appeared in several pioneering online literary journals, including Mudlark, Switched-on Gutenberg, and Salt River Review.  Harkness’ poem, “Kaylyn, Hermiston Elementary,” was featured on the Writer’s Almanac radio program. He lives with his wife, Linda, and teaches writing at Shoreline Community College.


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