A Bit of Beyond
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What the Mountain Saw
They arrive by night, travel-stunned, and see nothing.
They sleep wrapped in pine-tang and the rush of waters.
The father is first awake. He clacks the shutters back
and a mountain squats square in the window, looking in.
It never leaves them, though it changes hour by hour,
twisting a scarf of cloud, or turning a hard profile
to the morning sun, or dissembling a sugar-pink haze.
However far they walk – and they walk, walk every day –
it's above them, a bit of beyond. Some snow hangs on
in shreds. This is a famous north face, and a killer.
Each day the father scans it with his old binoculars
for any hint of tracks, and never finds them.
So the holiday proceeds, in a series of snapshots.
Here, in mid-stride, he crests a rise, wife and child
at his boot-heels, tranced by their thud and the heat
and the insect hum. But the snow-face is no nearer.
Here, through veils of spruce, he breaks into a glade
possessed by pallid green-veined hellebores.
Or here, he brings the family, breathless, to its knees
before one icicle-white wild crocus. Here is the lake
he finds them, like a souvenir, round and still
enough to hold the mountain, till a fish jumps.
In between, there are the hours he drives them on
for health. Stop too long, the sweat begins to chill.
'Breathe deep!' he cries, and strikes out higher
up a wide white stony stream-bed, tumbled and scoured
by the spring-melt, strewn with tree-trunks, torn
and bleached, and a few tiny tough mauve flowers
he can't name. He grips the child's hand as she teeters
on a plank beneath a waterfall. Its ice-breath touches them.
Their hair goes white with spray. Afterwards he will say
'This was our furthest point,' and sigh. As they drag home
footsore, the mountain shows itself again behind them,
in its pure dream of itself, untouched … Just as now
it looks in through the breakfast-room window when the child,
as if the strings that controlled her had fouled
and were jerked tight, has one of her turns. An egg
tips from its silver cup, a glass pirouettes to the edge
but has not yet smashed, the other guests have not
yet turned to stare, the father reaches for her but
is frozen. He will never reach her. Any moment now
the yolk will burst on crisply laundered linen. Soon
there will be splinters and tears. Behind it all he sees
the mountain at the window. If one could stand there
looking down, he thinks, this would all be very small.
~ Philip Gross
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