Susan Tichy


After Paradise

Step-then-step of feet on rock
yellow taste of the stonecrop:                                     
drinking this river my whole life

schist : rain : rapids : wind
on the eye’s edge:

if horse from the borderland means gray
white-crowned sparrow song means high
and climbing into such views means pure


T’ao Ch’ien was certain: ‘the path of high peaks
never falters’ : rock : stillness : bowing
a thousand years into moving water

Look across Sand Creek to the snow-chutes—
one sharp/short run of rock
then baby spruce in a patch of willow

waterfalls in the dark-slash gullies
knifed by snow-melt, wrecked
by sun: three elk silhouette

on a scrap of snowfield
oceans of half-dead trees around them:
budworm : wildfire : everything

in abundance—


For Eighty Miles the Wind Shapes

two lines of summits, joined
by waves of ridges : streams plunge
from high basins : crystal tarns
to mirror headwalls—vertical rock
on skirts of talus—broken
by grassy saddles, crumbling spires
the cataracts
that slice them cold
as sky : Big Range
we call it, Blood of Christ :
broken post in a coil of wire :
the slopes
once bare, burned, grazed
dug, by human hands
replanted : now dead trees
—all one age—
hang half-fallen, tangle
hold—massifs of fire
in waiting—boot-battered
eye-swept: above the trees
each summit rides
a wave of rock, raft of tundra :
ice-age islands darken, bloom
in bars of sun, shapes of wind—
it’s cloud today, just cloud
and rain : leg muscles twitch
then calm, as thunder rolls
down ridges eastward
lightning dares the ground


‘Beyond Temporary, Like Snow Flurry’

Clouds roll eastward, white and high
then quick and gray
so pause here on an easy trail
to rub bare shoulders through white fir
then neck, face, halfway between
a furry pelt and a wing of feathers :
sensation caught like a single pebble
snatched on the journey from mud to shale
shale to schist : just try
to make of pain an offering
laid at the shrine of upright walking :
not ‘beds laid down in quiet waters’
but the sorting, reworking, of ever-motion
pebbly sands of a braided stream
or a handful of metamorphosis :
this rock carried from the cabin yard
to leave in a lightning-shattered tree
shrine to danger, shrine to time
in which dark veins are pure :
the bleed is rosy, invades host rock
—or so says the geologue
of fracture, of fault, of a body’s
internal thrashing :
crystal by crystal, grain by grain
Now quick! look up! a single raven
—then four more—skying southward, all talking
of something local, something urgent : what?


The Stones of Tamburlaine’s Army

No end to it     this ‘desperate fidelity’   
hills and rivers
‘dragged onto the map of war,’

as ‘every translator gallops off
on a horse of his own devising.’
But here’s the story:   

Timur the Lame
on his way to war in China
ordered each man to add one stone

to a cairn on the Santash Pass.
And on the way home, each man
to remove one stone

from the cairn on the Santash Pass.
And thus could be counted the dead,
you see, by counting the stones that remained.

From this red ridge, I count six mountains
each with its piles of stone:
Tijeras Peak—the Crown—

and Prisoner Peak, and Music,
Marble, Blueberry, Snow:
the trail descending in both directions,
massif dissolving into sand—
Sand Creek—running south,
then west to the setting sun.

 Lovely, that.
‘And even if you were no soldier
you too would weep’

at my translation     of Pico Aislado
not prisoner      says my dictionary,
and not    refugee,

but isolated, remote, cut off,
                      ‘No likeness to
that human world below.’



Susan Tichy’s most recent books are Trafficke (2015) & Gallowglass (2010), both from Ahsahta Press. These poems are from a forthcoming volume, The Avalanche Path in Summer. Currently writing poems on mountains, coastlines, & island edges, she teaches in the MFA & BFA programs at George Mason University, & when not teaching lives in a ghost town in the southern Rocky Mountains. The title ‘Beyond Temporary, Like Snow Flurry’ is a line from Tory Dent’s poem, “RIP, My Love.”