Milton by Firelight
(Pine Creek, August 1955)
‘O HELL, what do mine eyes
with grief behold?’
Working with an old
Singlejack miner, who can sense
The vein and cleavage
In the guts of rock, can
Blast granite, build
Switchbacks that last for years
Under the beat of snow, thaw, mule hooves.
What use, Milton, a silly story
of our general parents,
eaters of fruit?
The Indian, the chainsaw boy,
And a string of six mules
Came riding down to camp
Hungry for tomatoes and green apples.
Sleeping in saddle blankets
Under the bright night-sky
Han River slantwise by morning.
In ten-thousand years the Sierras
Will be dry and dead, home of scorpion.
Ice-scratched slabs and bent trees.
No paradise, no fall,
Only the weathering land
The wheeling sky,
Man, with his Satan
Scouring the chaos of the mind.
Too dark to read, miles from a road
The bell-mare clangs in the meadow
That packed dirt for a fill-in
Scrambling through loose rocks
On an old trail
All of a summer’s day.
by Gary Snyder