High Sierra

by Thomas Piekarski —


I love you Sierras because your eyes are blue
soaking up sunlight when the day is done
or casting a broad shadow over the Central Valley
while drivers going east on winter mornings
view your snowcaps from the freeway.

The skiers not exactly having a field day, although
snow levels are about normal for this time of year.
The Sierras could use a huge influx of storms
to add depth to a snowpack so desperately needed.

The hedonist in me says hide away on some exoplanet,
the realist admits to sins of the past, my psychic counsels
dip your toe in the fire. I have no intention of heeding
any of them. I’m going it alone from here on out.


Going it alone doesn’t mean going without the ones
you love whose souls permeate your mind during sleep.


Rumpled Humpty Trumpskin built a fifty-foot brick wall
all across the southern border from Tijuana to the Gulf.
Then the hungry season came and the workers all went
south to seek their fame and fortune in those archives
of ancient eras the famine mines, their task put to rest.


Ansel Adams revered the Sierras, photographed Yosemite
from every conceivable perspective. And John Muir
extolled them as a sanctuary for the passing of eons,
perpetually invasive glaciers, violent eruptions, erosion.

Some day there may be some sensational explosion
that rivals Krakatoa. Is Mount Lassen due? Anybody
tracking quakes in that neck of the woods?


Hundreds of thousands of trees dying off due to drought,
even the majestic giant redwoods in Sequoia Park
and Kings Canyon threatened with extinction.


We must repel the demons from hell
who come at us, crawling out of their tower windows
and dropping like spiders into the entire atmosphere.
They wind us in their invisible threads, threatening
every breath, each precipitous thought caught up
in their wintry webs. And so snowflakes are each
to each an epiphany, graphic indications that devils
can be bottled in a synthetic hell you pay no mind to.


In the opening to James Wright’s Minneapolis poem,
Minneapolis the city of my birth, my mother
and father’s births, he speaks of the hungry and frightened
homeless who died along the Mississippi shore, dreaming
of suicide. And how they fished their cadavers from
the wind-swept river. My grandfather was one of them,
he who spoke but broken English, illiterate immigrant,
drunk, whose skull was undoubtedly crushed,
his body tossed in the river. When they found him
days later washed up on the shore he was barely
identifiable, as fish had eaten most of the head
and the grotesque body bloated with muddy water.


Today it’s frigid, however late spring heat will instigate
rapid snow melt, and dreams maybe flowing down streams
of disappointment. We must ration our fears and marshal
all the technology we can are we to keep the Hetch Hetchy
dam productive, supplying power and water enough
to slake the thirst and keep lights lit for millions, to spur
agriculture that supplies the nation with essential produce.

These Sierras may well become a refuge for displaced
populations driven inland once coastal cities are flooded
and the value of their real estate gone up in smoke. Then
no fair using the Second Amendment as a scapegoat.


Should the carbon bubble burst we’ll be in for big changes
since the oil titans will go kaput as humanity scampers
round and round like unicorns encircling a hidden universe.

The Russian girl Nina at Goodwill rolls large plastic bins
filled with donations, embodying grace of a gazelle, while
Emanuel from Liberia walks with a heavy limp, sorting
what’s salvageable and what goes to the trash compactor.

Upon whose good will we can depend contingent, remains
to be seen, an utter mystery. Should detente ultimately win
the day, perhaps manatees will continue to exist awhile.


How do we gain prescience of their presence, I mean
those ancestors whose doppelgangers dawdle in these
massive Sierras? Do we look for them in our DNA?
Maybe kneel beneath a tall sugar pine, pray for them
to appear out of nowhere? Only the stars hold indisputable
truth as to what rightly survives, what left for dead to rot.

Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly and Pushcart Prize nominee. His poetry and interviews have appeared in literary journals internationally, including Nimrod, Florida English Journal, Cream City Review, Mandala Journal, Poetry Salzburg, Poetry Quarterly, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Boston Poetry Magazine. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and his epic adventure Ballad of Billy the Kid is available on Amazon in both Kindle and print versions.