A Lesson While Hiking Mt. Skylight
         for Maurice Kenny, 1929-2016
By Colin Pope

Catkin, boscage, rumpled leaves like sun-yellowed pages

littering the rooms of an abandoned school:
that’s how one might think of nature, Maurice,

as a student returning to a place
taken away, not exactly certain it’s been missed.
I suspect you’d bristle at such a statement, reach back,

tighten the white column of your ponytail,
and explain you can’t miss what’s forgotten. Or, no,

something yet more human—that toothy, overbitten grin,
a little shake of your head as though clearing

the logjam of your thoughts to make way
for the truth. If you let the scrubby hillside
carry your descent to the water’s edge, you’ll arrive

at Lake Tear of the Clouds here, there, the highest water,
stewed brown by bark like stilled beer.
Those moments, out in the wild, when a man

confronts himself—the long, overgrown path
to the vision of arrival at one’s own reflection—

you tried to line them up for all of us. If only
they could be put into words, right? Then, finally,

we could count them. It’s not really a lake, Maurice,
but a col, a pool, the actual beginning of the Hudson River,
4,000 feet up. There’s a story about Theodore Roosevelt

trundling down from its shores upon hearing
death had pulled its jangly carriage to McKinley’s door,
the assassin’s bullet behind his stomach

gangrenous at last. That’s where Teddy learned
he was going to “take over the free world.”
You’d know just how to care about something like that

even though the Iroquois name for Lake Tear was lost,
if ever it existed, and even though all those presidents

took the tribes apart like wolves
snapping wet ribs from an overrun chest.
You had such forgiveness. “I learn rivers

by sitting still,” you said, and watched your thousand selves
drift toward you and sail past—teacher,

poet, elder, runaway boy jumping the turnstile
for the A train—suspended on silt and coils of white birch,

direct from the source. The source, Maurice; a turtle
sunning upon the rain-flattened lee of a fallen spruce

beside a lazy pond atop the Adirondacks.
Oh, we’re all adrift on the shell of something.
We go to Brooklyn, Bayonne, Asheville,

New Orleans, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, and back
to guileless Saranac Lake, as though the trail

reached its summit and turned us, newly realized,
down the mountain again. Or how else

would we become answers? You were a secret

of the obvious, exactly like the country beneath
this country. The source, Maurice. When you find it—

when you step where the deer and bear, the Roosevelts,
the Iroquois stepped—you realize
it was never really hidden. The source hoots and bellows,

it stands at the podium, incanting
like a real Mohawk emerged from beneath a tree line

to sing to the lake, to slide his glasses into their case,
to thank what can’t be seen before receding
back to his shadowy offices among the brake.

[Prayer Upon Accidentally Electing a Men’s Room Wall]
By Colin Pope

         Somewhere inside, beneath that dried organ
shriveled by growing up, every boy tucks

         the black marker with which a chained beast
inscribes. We’ve tracked, hunted, lured

         each our own. From behind the cellar doors
you can even hear them gnash and jangle, moan.

         A decade or two, and eventually
they’re conjuring masterpieces down there: a spurting

         phallus, “Alicia M gives great head,” “Hitler
was right.” Forgive us, dear lord, our patronage,

         our collecting the very best works and
standing back to admire them. What we respect

         is the boldness to be wrong. We curate it,
raise it to the gallery wall like a portrait by a killer:

         what the darkness says makes sense
to the darkness we never show each other.

[Prayer for Our Lord’s Intimate Involvement in Erecting a Wall]
By Colin Pope

         The mountains you gave us weren’t enough
so we shout at each other until the noise
         piles like a dome atop a marble statehouse.
We don’t even know what to bleed for. The tengrists

         gazed at the azure canopy overhead
and believed it was you; in some accounts, generals
         note how Genghis Khan wasted hours
lying in the grass, staring up. He wanted to own

         any world under that sky, as though he couldn’t
be stopped by a wall or a mountain or a mountain
         of words. I’ve felt that too, certain mornings
when beauty tries to seduce us by turning around

         to give us its overcast shoulder. Is this all really
for the preservation of beauty? Musk of pine pitch,
         mewl of kitten, woman with
bediamonded hair? A horde is any group angry

         at their inability to stay still, which means
us unto to you, lord. Regardless how we check,
         circle, adjust the mirrors, paradise
hides in the blind spot, just beyond.

         When troops saw the stone apartments
carved high above a creek in Arizona, of course
         they called it Montezuma’s Castle, the idyll
of vague fact masquerading as myth: such longing

         to believe in whatever hovers closest
to heaven. Or better, to build a society
         right inside the wall, or right on top of it, or
to crane and erect so those of us stuck below

         fume with envy at the wall dwellers,
whose breezes taste better to the throat
         than cold milk. Lord, show us how to keep
by keeping them out. To set them above us

         that they might look down and wonder
just why they ever forged rivers, hung their sleeves
         in barbed wire, forfeited a child or two
for this, our dull Eden, no closer at hand to you.

Colin Pope grew up in Saranac Lake, NY. His poetry has appeared in Slate, Willow Springs, Rattle, Poet Lore, Los Angeles Review, Linebreak, and Best New Poets, among others. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize and is currently a student at Oklahoma State University, where he serves on the editorial staff at Cimarron Review. He is at work on his first poetry collection.