Salk Mountain Climb

Climbing through grassy
meadows and up a switchback
trail, her calf muscles protested
as guilt waylaid her, locked her
into a time and place.

Saturday night – motels
with Gideon Bibles,
flimsy walls and beer-
hall men with morning
breath followed by
Fundamentalist Sunday.

Crammed between family and
perdition, hell-fire preachers
and saliva swallowing
parishioners, guilt rode her.
Word ricocheted from walls.

“Save your soul, sister.
Take the high road. Ain’t
no switchback to the Lord.”

Past wildflower masses, colors
blending and blazing, thimble
berries sweet to the tongue,
thermos water cool, the air pure,
she paused to look down. The
church still visible, the steeple
a straight line.  Evergreens rustled
and cool breezes played picture-
tunes with memory, voices cajoling.

cataloged her sins, held
them up like a chalice
of repentance.  Once,
struggling to understand,
she ‘d cried, “Mama, I’m so
afraid.  Daddy, tell me what
to do.”  Give me words about
life.  Tell me about love.

“Ain’t no words necessary
if you’re pure, no shortcuts
to the Lord,” they said.

Up a narrow way she plodded, breath
harsh, chest burning, thoughts colliding
like air exhaling, Her fault, stupid
smiley face, golden hair, friendly air.

Below her a melt-water lake
nestled in the bowl of the hill,
blue-green, sparkling.  She paused
to gape in wonder.  Having been
plunged into the depths of religion
she’d come up bereft of answers.

Now, the air vibrating with choice,
she marked the trail, plotted a track
across the glacier, above the tree
line, a straight route to the summit.
Crunching  through snow-pack,
July’s air brisk, the hillside strewn

with boulders, rockslides and talus
trails, no clinging vegetation
marred the view.  No devil and
brimstone oratory slammed into
her.  Nothing spoiled a mind-
expanding, endless panorama.

Climbing fast now,
second wind,
she glimpsed
adjacent peaks,
snow-capped and silent
– in true communion.

Balanced on top of the climb,
an abandoned Forest Service
Lookout Station offered a limit-
less view – Baker, Rainier, and
a sea of  known and unknown
mountains brushing the sky.

Her thoughts
whirled a
limitless cosmos,
the future unfurled
a vision, offered
the Universe.

Soon night swirled stars into
liberating constellations. Deities
toppled without fanfare, super-
stition crumbled, disappeared.

At dawn, no longer
shackled, she rose
from her sleeping
bag refreshed,
invigorated and
forever free.

About Cleo Fellers Kocol

Cleo Fellers Kocol (“Freethought Feminist”) began her writing career in the 1970’s. Her early published work, beginning as humor à la Irma Bombeck, went on to include one-woman, many-character plays performed throughout the United States, from Alaska to Florida and Boston to L.A. She taught creative writing to adults. She achievements soon included awards for her stories, a magazine column, a novel in print, two novels published electronically, and authorship of an essay in a college composition textbook. But she knew nothing about poetry. Then she attended a poetry conference, and “felt the top of her head explode.” Since then she concentrated on writing poetry when not traveling with her husband, giving popular talks on history, taking part in community events, or socializing with family and friends. Ostensibly retired, she won one of three grand prizes in the Artists Embassy International Poetry Contest in 2003, and was delighted that Natica Angilly and her group danced the poem at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. She chairs the El Camino Poets of Sacramento and is a member of the Poetry Club of Lincoln. Cleo has two published chapboks, What A Dance We’ve Had and Waikiki Winter and Other Tropical Tales, as well as chapbooks in conjunction with Cleo Griffith, including The Society of Cleo Poets Volume III.

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