Today's poem is by Steve Gehrke


Half-an-hour climb and I'm breathing
the way the shipwrecked breathe
between the waves: gasps, heaves.
The grade ahead is steep, so I sit
down to read: Leibniz: A Biography,
the master trying to devise a scheme
to drain the silver mines. The stones
below me could hold their breath
for centuries; each time we tramp
them down, they reappear, as if
even the hardest elements retain
a touch of buoyancy. Buoyant, it
means being lighter than whatever's
trying to swallow you: water, flesh.
I'm thirty-nine today. No reason
to face it yet, I say, the latest blood-
work still sealed in the envelope
in which it came, though the swelling
in my ankles is a little worse each
day, the chills deepening at night
like another ice-cube dropped into
a cup. They're buoyant, too, aren't
they, rising up through the elements
from which they're made before melting
back. At death, I suppose, the self's
like that. Leibniz, bless him, would
disagree. The self and the brain, he
writes, are manufactured separately,
and are housed apart, though they
achieve a kind of synchronicity.
Like skaters, I imagine, in different
rinks performing the same routine.
Like nothing, the stones below me
say. The glint in one of them might be
some of the last galena in these hills.
Galena, the word like some mythic
ship. Bright death, I decide it means.
The Egyptians wore it to combat
the sun, and enemies: at night a tribe
became a charging galaxy. How long
before this kidney's gone? Three
years? Four? Scattered is the word
I use when people ask me how
I'm managing. The two apartments,
they mean, the way I fly each
few weeks to visit my daughter
in another state. Scattered. It means
that when I'm here I'm in another
place. Oh well. If Leibniz is right,
we're already all that way. Music
is the soul's arithmetic, he also
liked to say, though at night he lay
awake listening to the silver singing
from the distant mines. He was as
of-this-world as anyone. Distant
minds, I almost wrote. My breath
is slow in coming back. I'd like to
walk into the woods and read but there
are breakthroughs just off this path,
where sequined belts once dragged
the galena up, so much of it, the story
goes, that drivers would mistake
the glare for ghosts or UFOs,
and those miners would go home
so covered with that bright death,
that unearthly snow, that some nights,
exhausted, half-asleep, they must
have pulled back the sheets to find
that their bodies glowed.

Copyright © 2012 Steve Gehrke All rights reserved
from Crazyhorse
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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