Fall 1999, Volume 17.1
Mikel Vause (Ph.D., Bowling Green University) is a Professor of English at Weber State University where he currently directs the Honors Program. He is the author of numerous articles, poems and short stories. He is currently working on a biographical study of the British mountaineer, Sir Christian Bonington, and on a philosophical study entitled Doug Scott: Pragmatic Mystic with Dough Scott, C.B.E., also a British mountaineer.
And So It Happens
On the arete,
High up where clouds float
Through steel-blue skies
And cast shadows that turn rock cold
And green valleys emerald,
The climber, at home in high places,
Steps on a loose stone,
A stone that has been part of the mountain for a million years.
With his errant step comes the sound,
Grind and grate
As the stone falls away into the mist,
Into thin air, into silence.
Then the smell that comes when rocks are rubbed together hard,
The scent of sulfur.
The climber's balance is lost.
Is so suddenly crippled.
Gravity, that ancient law of dropping apples
Exercises its authority and pulls first at his right boot,
A fine leather boot hand-made in Innsbruck.
A boot whose purpose is to climb steep, knife-edge ridges.
His right leg follows the boot
Almost voluntarily, but his left one resists
And struggles to retain its purchase.
And the climber, cloaked in bright yellow and black Goretex
Launches out sideways.
His arms reach out
And fingers grasp impotently at the clouds
That, for the moment, separate heaven from earth.
His mouth opens,
His eyes flash,
First with fear and then recognition.
And so it happens…
The Paint Store
Yesterday I realized
That four years ago I quit living,
It was then I gave in to the pressure
Opened a store—
A paint store filled with rows of cans,
Quarts and gallons of oil base and latex in every color.
She was beautiful—
She could, with a smile, change a man's dreams.
The last thing I wanted
Was to sell paint or wallpaper
Or unfinished oak tables.
Kate wanted it,
So I wanted it.
She made me believe that.
"John," she'd say, "the store would be fun.
You could work on things,
Strip old chairs and stuff.
Like we saw in Ann Arbor."
So I sold paint everyday for four years—
Old women wanting just the right color
For the bathroom
As if the choice was more important,
More essential than feeding
The starving subway people of the world.
Sometimes young couples came in
Seeking to make a life together
By painting old chairs or cracked walls—
I couldn't help but laugh at their naive happiness—
The same happiness Kate had forced on me
In various shades of water-based green.