Contract

By Leslie Ullman

Sometimes we

put aside the big questions

if we can have a few hours in thinned air

full of snow’s breathing,

full of trees breathing beneath

snow, the weight of winter

so entrenched, we can

feel the whole earth

stilled. And the mountain

seems to accept what we’ve

slashed into it, chainsaws

whining through summer air

so in winter we can claim a freedom

our bodies were not designed for.

We racket down its sides,

our inefficient uprightness

carried back up on cables drilled

into rock. Beneath the fiberglass

and metals, the custom-fitted plastics,

the graphics and pomp we clamp

to our fragile feet, the mountain

keeps a poise that resists

without rejecting us.

 

But if we’re willing to receive it

softly, through the fragile essence

of our feet, and open ourselves

to its dips and gullies, its glades,

its silence—if we are willing to absorb

the force of a solitude

that makes us disappear, the mountain

opens in us a third eye to find                                                                                                                                                                                 

the places that will let us fly

safely and land without breaking

our new contract with gravity—

we, whose young remain helpless

longer than young ermine or deer—

we whom gravity weights and slows

even in our prime—small wonder

we’re not extinct. The mountain,

though it remembers, allows us

to be gods for a time without doing harm.

 

 

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For 25 years I was a professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Texas-El Paso, where I established and directed the Bilingual MFA Program. Now Professor Emerita at UTEP, I continue to teach in the low-residency MFA Program at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, where I have taught since 1981. I also perform freelance manuscript consultations and work as a certified ski instructor at Taos Ski Valley in northern New Mexico.  I am the author of three collections: Natural Histories (Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, Yale University Press 1979), Dreams by No One’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1987), and Slow Work Through Sand (Iowa Poetry Prize, University of Iowa Press, 1998). My work has been published in Arts & Letters, decomP, New Letters, The New Yorker, Poet Lore, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, and several other journals.


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