Blasted granite marks the trail
Guttered through eternal rock.
Windborne smoke and ashes veil
Mountain peaks through which we walk.

Upward blue sky’s endlessness;
Downward glimpse of lakes below.
High Sierra wilderness—
Gleaming stone bedecked with snow.

Onward towards our destination,
Passing juniper and pine,
To the place called Desolation,
Glacial-carved from God’s design.

Mirrored waters stretch before us.
Barren boulders, white-bleached trees,
Join in silence to implore us
Rest our sore and weary knees.

All too soon, with souls inspired,
We retrace the way we’d come.
Aching, stumbling, perspired,
Trading paradise for home.

 

James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers

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16 Responses

  1. E. V.

    Lovely! You successfully place the reader into the scene. Thank you for giving us a “mini-vacation” (without the travel hassles).

    Reply
  2. Amy Foreman

    This is a stunning snapshot/poem, James, as was your last one on Cape Disappointment. Very enjoyable.

    If there were a slight tweak in the second line of the last stanza, changing it from “We retrace the way we’d come” to “We’ll retrace the way we’ve come,” it would keep us in “the place called Desolation” a little longer, by making our departure something in the future. Just a thought . . . certainly the poem is picturesque and complete as is.

    Reply
    • E. V.

      Agreed. Although the poem “works” (and is great without this minor tweak), this small change does add value to the reader’s experience.

      Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Amy, I got so focused on the “we’ve” “we’d” thing that I completely missed the main thrust of you suggestion which was “we’ll” instead of “we.” Now that I’ve had a chance to think it through I think I will agree with you. Next time around it will be “We’ll/we’ve.” (Note this is written after my comments at the lower end of the thread). Thanks.

      Reply
  3. David Hollywood

    Smashing! I felt I was there and knowing I should be there. Terrific.

    Reply
  4. James A. Tweedie

    I appreciate the positive response as well as the suggestion. My first draft of the poem had the word “we’ve” for the same reasons you (plural) have given. Later I went back and forth with “we’d” also for grammatical reasons. After all, the reference is to our (past tense) uphill journey in the morning, something we had (“we’d”) already done. In the end I flipped a coin and it came up “we’d!” Although I agree “we’ve” sounds better I am still inclined to think that “we’d” is more correct. What an odd dilemma! I suppose King Solomon would have simply cut the baby in half and split the difference.

    Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    It makes no difference whatsoever in the metrics, but would it be better to say “bleached-white” instead of “white-bleached”?

    The former is, I think, the preferred compound adjective.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Joseph, in my comment below, I failed to notice the hyphen in your suggestion “bleached-white.” (my eyesight is not as good as it used to be). That hyphen saves the day. I shall add your suggested change as well.

      Reply
      • Kim Cherub

        James,

        I like your poem’s vivid imagery and also the way you conserve words without sacrificing meaning. A very nice and effective combination, methinks.

        I’m a newbie here, so if you have time to comment on my poem “Lullaby” that would be wonderful.

        Also, you said something about changing your poem. Can that be done here, or did you just mean in your working version of the poem somewhere else?

        Warmly,
        Kim

  6. C.B. Anderson

    In the second stanza I would put commas after “Upward” and “Downward,” because these are a species of apposition. Or perhaps colons would be more appropriate, directing the reader’s attention to what follows. Anyway, I think that some punctuation is needed there. What most impresses me, from a technical standpoint, is that you have written a poem in legit trochaic meter, something I have done only once or twice. In the next to last line you could have written “stumbling, and perspired,” thus promoting “and” to an accented syllable. Lewis Turco, for one, has much to say about promoting and demoting syllables in the interests of metrical consistency.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      C.B. You are always so spot-on with your observations. I was wondering if anyone would notice the meter! Getting it consistent in every line was a challenge since there are only so many words in English that rhyme in such a way as to carry the meaning smoothly through such a tightly knit, narrow rhythmic structure.

      By the way, my original draft had commas after Upward and Downward for the same reasons you mention. I then waffled back and forth on this as well, eventually flipping yet another coin and coming up with “no comma (or semi-colon).” I am now inclined to reinsert the commas. In this, along with the “we’ve/we’d” matter and Mr. Salemi’s “bleached white” vs “white-bleached” suggestion I can see all sides and embrace them all! Yet, when publishing a poem, one cannot have it all ways.

      The reason for the “white-bleached” choice was simply to avoid the idea that the trees were “white trees” that had later been “bleached” = “bleached white trees” as opposed to “trees” that had been “bleached-white.”

      One suggestion I do embrace wholeheartedly, is the addition of the “and” which reduces “stumbling” to two syllables instead of three. Someday, if I publish this poem elsewhere, I suppose I will have to fish or cut bait in all of this. My only comfort is that I will still have my trusty coin to flip.

      Many thanks for all the suggestions. This is SCP at its best!

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        “Stumbling” should never be pronounced tri-syllabically. Note that the final “e” in verbs is, by rule, omitted before an “-ing” ending. If the vowel is no longer there, then there is no need to pronounce it, and there might well be a need not to pronounce it.

        Would we ever pronounce “coming” as COM-eh-ing? Or better, “Stumbling” as STUM-bell-ing? The important thing here is that you have engaged the reader much more than ever before, and I hope this trend continues. Nicely done, Mr. Tweedie.

  7. Mark Stone

    Mr. Tweedie, Hello.

    1. My dictionary says that “glacial” is an adjective and “glacier” is a noun. Since adjectives cannot carve and nouns can, I would change “glacial” to “glacier.” And, although it is not necessary, you could change “from” to “by,” which would give you assonance from “by” and “design.” In other words:

    Glacier-carved by God’s design.

    2. In the fourth stanza, since the boulders and trees are speaking to the narrator, i.e., to “us,” perhaps “Rest our…” should be “Rest your…” Here’s what I suggest:

    Mirrored waters stretch before us.
    Barren boulders, white-bleached trees,
    Join in silence to implore us:
    Rest your sore and weary knees.

    3. On the question of “we’ve” or “we’d,” my opinion (which could be wrong, since I’m not a grammar expert) is that neither is correct. I remember once a Russian immigrant who was learning English asked me when you use the simple past tense (“I ate three pizzas”) and when you use the present perfect tense (“I have eaten three pizzas”). My answer was that if the relevant time period is over, you use the simple past tense, such as: “I ate three pizzas last week.” But if the relevant time period is not over, you use the present perfect tense, such as: “I have eaten three pizzas this week.” You use “have eaten,” since it’s still possible to eat more pizzas this week. I’m not an English teacher, but this explanation makes sense to me. In your poem, the journey out to the place called Desolation is over, i.e., the relevant time period is over, so I would use the simple past tense:

    We retrace the way we came.

    4. When you encounter a grammatical dilemma, my suggestion, rather than flipping a coin, is to turn to Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” I used it during my college English class many moons ago. I am going to pick up a copy and read it again, since I need to improve my knowledge of grammar. Of course, you can also flip a coin and compare the result to what Strunk and White say.

    5. I greatly enjoyed the trochaic meter. I also like the assonance in L1, the consonance in L10 and the alliteration in line 17. The most beautiful line is L16, with its four “r” sounds and three “s” sounds. I also think the final line of the poem is strong. Overall, I say: Well done!

    Reply
  8. James A. Tweedie

    Mark,

    As SPC I have the best teachers and editors in the world! I’ve never used Strunk and White (although I am familiar with it). I would say that, when it comes to the particularities of grammar, I am on the border between naive and ignorant .

    I agree with you that “glacier-carved” is both correct and an improvement as is the change of the “from” to “by.”

    You are, of course, correct in suggesting that “We retrace the way we came” is the proper grammatical form. It does not, however, feed into the closing rhyme (which is “home.”) This decision to match home with come is at the core of the problem. So, I shall stick with Amy’s suggestion as the best option. On the other hand, I could rewrite the whole thing into a Scottish poem about a hike from Fort William to the top of Ben Nevis in which case I could (but I won’t!) close the poem with,

    All too soon, with souls inspired,
    We retrace the way we came.
    Aching, stumbling, and perspired,
    Trading paradise for hame.

    Reply
  9. David Watt

    I really liked the way you handled the trochaic meter, and the fact that you have given us many fine scenic details. The supportive comments in this thread are some of the most informative and interesting to date.

    Reply

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