Poem of the Week | February 22, 2016

This week we’re delighted to offer a new poem by Susan Tichy. Tichy is the author of five books, most recently Trafficke (Ahsahta Press, 2015), a mixed-form investigation of family, race, and language, spanning from Reformation Scotland to the abolition of slavery in Maryland. Her previous Ahsahta books are Gallowglass (2010) and Bone Pagoda (2007). She teaches in the BFA & MFA programs at George Mason University, and when not teaching lives in a ghost town in the southern Colorado Rockies. Her poems and mixed-genre works have been widely published in the US and Scotland and have been recognized by the National Poetry Series, an NEA grant, a Chad Walsh Poetry Prize, residencies at Hawthornden Castle Writers Retreat, and numerous other awards. “A Walk Is Fact for the Walker and Fiction for Everyone Else” is from a manuscript in progress, The Avalanche Path in Summer.

Author’s note:

When I finally gave in to my lurking desire to do something poetic with a lifetime of walking mountain trails—of rock, water, plants, birds, stars, maps, exhaustion, ice, clouds, boots, tea, injuries, bears, picas, and companions—I had to begin with the most impassable space: the one where we find ourselves declaring—in words!—that nothing essential can be expressed in words. (If you listen for it, you’ll hear the laughter echoing out of China’s mountains for more than a thousand years.)
A WALK IS A FACT FOR THE WALKER AND FICTION FOR EVERYONE ELSE—in caps and in red—is a statement by the Scottish walking artist Hamish Fulton. In Fulton’s practice, the art is the walk, be it urban or wild, banal or exotic. All products of the walk—photographs, texts, books, installations—are not the art but its secondary effects, an alluringly empty shell secreted around the experience. I include in this sense of alienation even my own walks—remembered, of course, but instantly perishable. Created step-by-step, and thought-by-thought, then gone.
My poem’s title is a not-quite-accurate borrowing, a snapshot that—invisibly to most— fails to “capture” its target. The poem then moves through a series of mountain-writing genres to arrive, finally, at a different walk, enticingly literal but as perishable as any. (And, by the way, not walked by Fulton.) The spiral’s relationship to an implied previous walk, whose length it replicates and whose distance it reifies, remains, like a poem, both an experience of displacement and an opening for meditation.




—Hamish Fulton


Sunrise on the snowfields,
storm cloud snagged on a near ridge,
the high pastures, deep in flowers,
‘torrents plunging through cloven ravines,’
and so forth.


Or an easy shelf-trail, soft footing,
young oak, rain-wet, in a shaft of sun.
Only mist on the move, deadfall on the slopes:
one fragment of snow remaining
at the top of an avalanche run.


Say fluid geometry of hills
momentarily stilled. Say
one dead pine, rose-colored,
or a calculated hyperbole of rock.
Feel free to wander within the poem,


separate perceptions into points of view,
complete a sentence, divide a rhyme.
Yet facts remain:
‘new clouds born over high, bare rock,’
‘moonlight shining through open gates.’


Feed stones on water,
assent in words
that nothing can be expressed in words.
Dipped boots in mud and walked the distance
in a spiral on the gallery floor.