Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, OVER THE CHILKOOT TRAIL, by LISA D. CHAVEZ

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

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First Line: I still recall the details of that day
Subject(s): Gold; Yukon Territory

I still recall the details of that day,
how he trotted up the walk
calling out in a voice bell-clear
with excitement. How I stepped outside,
pie in my hands heavy as an infant.
"I'm going to the Klondike," he said
and the pie dropped, crust exploding,
yolk-yellow crescent moons of peaches
bleeding into the dust. My skirt
and shoes sticky with the spattered syrup.
And him, contrite, handling me gently
as a frightened animal. As he wiped
at my clothes, I felt myself go silent
as stone. Hours later, the ants drew
thick black lines through the ruined pie,
drunken insects drowning in golden juice.

When we stood there, before the long throat
of the Chilkoot trail, I thought of those ants again.
A dusting of snow like the sugar I sifted
on my pies, and broad lines of men surging
up the trail like disorderly ants. Among them
was my Joe -- my dead mother's walnut
dining table strapped to his back. Sentimental,
yes, but I had foolishly insisted, so he struggled
up the pass, his love for me borne heavily
by his body. I waited with sacks
of provisions, foot resting on my Singer
sewing machine, another whim Joe patiently
carried. Single men laughed, called us
cheechakos, fools, worse. But I had seen
the young wives left at home, hands restless
with loneliness as they fiercely knitted items
they sent north. I would not remain behind.
Joe said it was only for a season, but I also knew
how men, like ants, grow drunk and drown
in their dreams of gold. When Joe shouldered
the last bag onto his back, I followed him up.
Reaching the top, mud-spattered, winded, sore
I gazed down on the town turned tiny,
and the sea beyond. Then I turned my back
forever on the known world.

The years flew by like the first snowflakes
of fall. Two years in Dawson City, where
I saw men grow rabid as dogs out of greed,
saw men shot over cards in the gambling house,
saw fresh-faced girls turn bitter and hard
in a season. We never found gold.
I sewed miner's clothes, and endless procession
of parkas and pants, and I served many a meal
at my mother's table for a dime. It kept us alive.
Two years in the Klondike, til the dream
of gold played out, and the boom faded
from the town the way color drains
from a dying rainbow trout. Then we moved on,
traveling down the Yukon's great spine.
A year spent in a canvas tent in Circle City
Where I held a baby on my lap as I sewed,
Wedged between the walnut table and the barrel stove.
Then here, to this town on a gentle river,
To the house Joe built, where the table now resides.
We ate here together everyday until he died.

Now I sit here, my hands caressing
every scratch and scar in this old wood,
telling you how half a century ago
your grandfather lugged a table
through the wilderness out of love. My hands
read the marks in the wood like Braille,
a lifetime's tally of journeys, of people
and places long ago left behind.

Copyright Lisa D. Chavez
Prarie Schooner is a literary quarterly published since 1927 which
publishes original stories, poetry, essays, and reviews. Regularly cited in the
prize journals, the magazine is considered one of the most prestigious of the
campus-based literary journals.

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