Bootleg Mountain, Jocassee Gorges

Poetry Feb 6, 2023

by Keith Phelps

Old things
A crowded gallery of pitch pines
 And huckleberry bushes spreading like a high tide
Straddle the bedrock ridge
Almost pushing the world off
This lichen gumline with its sparse granite teeth

A black bear
Gouged its claws on the bark of not one
But three trees here
And I swear I saw
 Epicormic sprouts
  Tending the grooves

Anise lingered on my fingers
From the goldenrod
And other observations
Pointed to disrupted cycles
 Too much work from mountain laurel
  Too little fire from human

We stood in that time
Feeling our lungs converse around us
While we measured
The land that was there
 All there
  Yawning to its task:
  Hello to Cherokee and its painted bears!
  Hello to Soapstone Church and its mothers!
  Hello to kudzu pulling the weight of sky to us!
  Hello to medicine in yucca and yellowroot!
  Hello to transmission wire cutting the mountains!

The land does not forget
And it even made me remember you
And the time we watched
The bull moose
 Travel from the water through the paper birch
  Its beard dripping lake mud all the while

Here on the mountain head
We noted names growing in-situ
We remarked how changed this view was
The loss and the hope of it all
The way people and past linger
Like timber rattlesnakes on two tracks

We waded through the mountain laurel
 Following needle and GPS
  Down to the worn pickup
   Hoping we were changed and hoping we wouldn’t forget