By Atom Terpening
When the heavy darkness daunts me I recall
There is a trail, where northern lights occasionally glitter
It winds from the mother of all lakes up hills that are living sand dunes draped in a skin of earth
Hundreds of years of leaves, protect the strata of loam thriving underneath
Birch trees shine in the winter sun which hangs without heat in the lonely sky like an artist’s depiction
The ground is white as a forgotten dream covered with lost memory, crystalline rain, a monument to the flow of cloud rivers
There is a trail where once a great Chippewa chief ran a hundred miles in one day, into the great spirits’ private reserve to rescue his departed love from the happy hunting ground
Clutching his totem to his chest which burned with yearning for his beloved, he purified himself with juniper smoke and crawled to the gate
It is that stature for which we long
It is that trail
At the boundary of unconsciousness where hangs a wild strawberry the size of a melon
All those who pass fall under its spell and bend to taste
The chief was wise enough to forego the fruit—though his heart did ache
He offered a squash under his hood to the guardian, whose war club struck the gourd and left the chief to pass over, to remain awake in the vivid dream and find his love
It Is So, true magic appears when you and your broken heart awaken from the spell and walk in the dream.
There is a trail and my beard grows long as I walk it
I’ve left a layer of dried leaves to raise the skin of earth higher
I’ve grieved with the departed chiefs and seen the glittering lights of the happy hunting ground
I’ve tried to stuff a gourd into my hood still reeking with pine pitch, crawled to the gate as have we all
I’ve been persuaded to open my eyes
There is a trail and my brothers and sisters sing in the willows along the lowlands where springs trickle ignoring the onset of urban sprawl
There the generation of good will is palpable in the air lifting the heron from slumber in the golden reeds.
There a tribe is forever learning to stay awake at the gate, to find the tracks to their beloved.
Shining to each other in the dim inviting symbolic sun, waving on a string from dawn to dusk, like birch trunks tilting in the breeze from the lake.
There is a trail we have left to make our fortune, carrying great loads up dead end roads
Ignoring the onset of community
I’ve found where regrets are buried there by the bones of ungulates picked clean by carrion birds
I’ve tasted the blood inside my cheek as my heart broke hearing the cries of the forgotten
Carrying so much when the only weight should be the sky
There is a trail where the breathing of the forest takes us into a trance of brilliance
From there anyplace can be found and the footfalls pump our blood
From there we plant our roots and still fly above the painted landscape
It is a paradox, we say, asking the great chief for advice,
It is all in a life, we say, asking the chief’s beloved to sing to our still youthful hearts about a love that is unbreakable.