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Away from the Road
for a great basin bristlecone pine
For picking a high place,
unsheltered; using shattered rock
to thread roots through to the poor and
shallow soil; strong at extremes: in
relentless winds, only a few
cushion-plants for company
on the last ridge twisting up, up
aslant in thin bright-blue air,
slow swerves in its multiple
twistings, in its grain its warm
colors staying fresh in this dry cold
through the centuries -- tree that is one wild contortion
from its sprawled-out clenched-down root system
half-bared by erosion, to the snag
of its tip, single existence in
among existences which sustain
and assail it at the same time: what else
is there to be found -- you cannot
imagine the nothingness of the before
and after -- you get no further than
the silence of stone, of a standing bristlecone
in the terrifi c fi xity of its achieved exertions.
Still there is a certain casualness in
its leaning into open space, and
in its reach for air and light up here
there's eagerness not anguish. You see it
in the jaunty half-twirl of
the barkless twig at the top.