Poetry By Scott Galloway

What's On This Page:

The Poet's Page is an on line publication of Solo Publications of Santa Cruz, California. This edition of The Poet's Page features poems by Scott Galloway from his collection THE PLACE OF MANY VOICES, which is scheduled to be published in book form by Solo Publications in 2003. The sites described in the poems in this selection are located in the Wawona District of Yosemite National Park.

Images on this page were produced from original photographs taken at the subject locations of the poems beside which the images appear. The background image was produced from an original photograph of Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park.

Copyright Information

The Poet's Page and the text included on all of its pages are copyrighted. Copyright © by Scott Galloway 1996. All rights are reserved. No page or section of a page of this publicatiuon and no graphic or photographic image or section of a graphic or photographic image, may be copied, printed, distributed or used for any commercial, business or other purpose, including the purpose of distribution electronically or in any other form without the express written permission of the author.

All background and image graphics with the exception of push pins are copyrighted, copyright © Scott Galloway 1996. All rights are reserved.

Table of Contents

The Place of Silence

The Place of Many Voices

The Burn

The Shelf

The Place of Ravens


High, at the summit of the ridge,
A young tree,
A red fir, stands alone.
It is of the generation
After the burn.
It was spawned by the few giants
Left standing
Who, after the fire
Spread their pollen in the wind
Across the ridge.

There is no wind
On this thirty degree day.
The powder sky
Is cloudless
Above you.
Low in the distance
Above the Clark range,
The Cathedrals,
And the Ritter Range
Pure white clouds float
Detached from the land
They do not threaten snow.

You slip the bindings of your skis,
And drop to one knee to open your pack.
You carefully fold your skins,
And return them to the pack.
A thread of sticky blue klister
Runs from tip of the skins
Through the opening of the bag,
The other end of the thread
Is attached to your finger.
The thread stretches as you withdraw
Your hand.
It does not break,
But winds its strand through
Your clothing.
This strand of klister
Is like the thread of life
That weaves its strands of protein
Through time,
In fire proof seeds,
And in the myriad spores
And pollen granules
That blow in the wind.
Life is resilient
Even after a fire
So hot
That the sap
Boils out of the bark of trees
And in flame
Leaving only ash.
Scant chemicals of life,
And nothing more.

The fire that burned this ridge
Fifteen years ago,
Charred the soil,
Leaving only a few
Stately giants.

Under the snow
The thin veneer of mountain soil
holds the seeds of manzanita,
And the delicate wildflowers
Of eight thousand feet.
These have grown in their season
To cover the ridge,
But lie buried now
Beneath seven feet of snow.
In the light of winter, there are only
These remaining giants,
A few snags, hollow but standing
Like monuments to past life,
Black husks
Rising from pure white,
And these few gentle young ones who have grown
Taller than the seven foot mantle of snow.
All other life struggles below
In the faint filtered blue light
Of the snow depths.

The limbs of the giants are twisted
Writhing brooms,
But still they live,
And still they spread their seeds.

Not in your lifetime,
But soon these giants
And the old snags
Will litter a forest floor.
This light filled winter ridge
Will be shaded by this small fir
And its siblings,
Grown tall and strong,
In a forest restored.

You come here for the light,
Taking full advantage
Of a transition
Longer than your life span,
Enjoying the scant company
Of the few other beings
On this ridge,
Who can hold their heads
Above winter.
The sun shines on this ridge
Throughout the day.
Deep powder
Changes quickly here,
In this place of transition.
Every form is changing,
Growing into something else.
And so powder snow quickly
Grows to corn.
It is the corn snow
You wanted,
Came here to ski.
Came here to glide across the ridge,
And down its open slopes
In the full bright sun.

This ridge is a silent place.
The life that shares
The winter light with you,
Seldom speaks to human ears,
And only in the wind.
It is a silent day.
No bird calls out
From the few remaining trees.

You rise from your pack,
Still wiping the klister from your hand.
You are the only life form moving.
All else is perfect silence.
Yet deep in the heart of silence
The spirit of life sings
Its song of growth and change.
You can feel
Deeply within you
Deeper than the soft beating
Of your own heart,
The slow cadence
Of life.

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Your skis float
On the granular surface
In broad sweeping turns,
Down through
The vacant snags and stumps
Of the dead forest.

The shadows of the dead trees
Still holding
Onto the chill of night
rattle beneath your skis
The song of brittle ice,
But in the glorious sun,
The snow spreads beneath
The metal edges of your skis
Like frosting
On a wedding cake,
Beneath a heated knife.

These trees
You think are
Like a wedding party.
The bride and groom on this cake.
Are dead unfortunately,
Along with the other members
Of their wedding party.
They died in a fire fifteen years ago.
It is because of their death
That you came here.
You came here
To spread icing on their cake.
To partake of a wedding feast of ice,
Left by the wedding party
Only for strangers.

It is an absurd illusion.
It offers nothing
To improve your concentration,
On the sweeping turns,
Down the steep slope,
Littered with dead forest snags.
Yet it amuses you to visualize
The melting snow
Under the heat
Of your gliding skis.

You stop mid slope
To look back up the ridge.
Your path is marked
By the sine wave
Of your turns,
Each one linked
To the turn before it.

A wedding marks the beginning of one thing,
And the end of two others.
Lives pass that others may live.
Life in the forest is this way.
Life is this way.
As you follow with your eyes
The carved turns
Back up the slope to the ridge top,
You can from your position
On the slope, see
Near the summit of the ridge
Where the sky and the snow meet,
Two silhouetted snags standing
With limbs linked in an embrace
That owes existence only to perspective.

You turn to the task at hand.
You are the only living guest.
You must dance at this wedding.

Stepping forward, you drop down
On one leg to carve a turn,
And then linked with it, another.

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Beyond the Place Of Silence,
Fire swept,
The white reflection of the Clark Range
And beyond it,
The peaks of the Ritter Range.
Off to the north east,
The summit of Mt. Conness,
The gray granite of its shovel face
Stands above the mantel of winter.
All else is white.

Down the ridge in sweeping linked turns
Through the white granules of sun tempered
Snow, the crystalline blue sky above you,
Between the stiff fire blackened trunks of a forest
That perished in heat and light,
In a fire stored in cellulose.
The potential energy of all living beings,
In their hearts, the substance of their destruction.
Dropping in those sweeping turns
Into the shallow ravine, and
Climbing up again onto the southern ridge,
You ski out onto the rise
Which is the summit of that ridge,
To a flat place
Guarded by a mature stand of ponderosa,
To a throne
Formed of the stooped trunk
Of a dead pine,
To the Place of Many Voices.

There on a twisted branch
Of that stooped snag, barkless
Reaching into the golden sun
Out of the blue depths of ice,
You sit to listen for the silence again,
But you do not find silence.
Instead, the living branches of the pine forest
Are filled with the activity of unseen birds.
You hear their voices above you,
But see nothing.
The song of the invisible community
Of birds excites in you the promise of spring.
This place of many voices is alive and current
Even in the depth of winter.
From the ridge top above you,
You hear the lone call of a raven,
Stark, in an echo of the absence of light
In defiance of the cloudless sky,
And the life of winter.

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It is a long run
Along the saddle of the ridge
And into the woods.
The open slope
Blends into the trees.
From a distance,
The wall of green
Appears to be the solid edge
Of a dense forest,
But once among the trees
The sunlight dominates
The sparse stand of red fir.
The ridge ends at a small stream
Where it meets a companion ridge
To the south.
The stream is choked with snow,
It is invisible under a white
Unmarked blanket.
At the stream,
You stop to drink
From your water bottle.
The climb has been gradual,
But steady.
Ahead where the northern ridge
And the southern ridge join,
The terrain is nearly flat,
But climbs again
Up the stream to top of the mountain.
You could follow the creek
To the summit,
But you do not.
You will follow the stream bed
Until it begins to climb again.
Then you will cross the stream bed
To the southern ridge.
Working your way to the south
And to the west up the ridge,
You will continue to climb until you reach
A narrow shelf.

From below,
From your vantage point in the creek bed,
The shelf appears to be flat.
You know from experience
that the shelf is not flat.
The shelf is less steep
Than the slope beneath or above.
The shelf drops
At a safe angle
To the edge of the steeper slope.
It is narrow directly above you
But broadens as it approaches
The face of the ridge.
The route you have chosen
Will use this shelf
To maintain a constant elevation
As you cross the ridge.
The forest will be dense on the southern ridge.
The sun has not penetrated the forest canopy.
The snow will be frozen
And slick.
It is the route you have chosen.

There is a feeling of place
In the creek bed.
The slope of the land there
Is gradual,
You can hear the faint sound of water
Running under the snow.
There are a few birds above you in the red fir,
Speaking in their language
Of some important event.
You can see Mt. Conness
Rising above the crowns of the red fir forest.
The peak is but an ornament
On the distant horizon.

The shelf will afford a broader
Less obstructed view of the peak.
You will be able to see
Not only Mt. Conness,
But all of the peaks
In the Sierra Crest
To the East.

You step forward, climbing again.
You are careful as you place your skis.
The terrain is steep.
You make wide
Herring bone marks in the snow
As you climb upward
In a series of switch backs.
You climb up through the red fir forest,
Avoiding tree wells, and the steepest portions
Of the slope.
After climbing steeply upward
In your zig zag stitch,
You reach the shelf.
You pause on the shelf
To drink again
From your water bottle.
The footing is insecure
On the hard pack frozen surface
Of the snow.
Even the cracked metal edges
Of your skis do not
Cut deeply enough into the ice
To insure solid footing.
Beyond you the Sierra Crest
Stretches from the peaks north
Of Tioga,
South to the Ritter Range.
The Clark Range lies before you,
Mt. Clark, Gray Peak, Red Peak, and Merced,
In their winter coats of white ice.

These peaks of the Sierra Crest
Define this place.
They reach out to you,
Encompass you,
Encircle the visible world
As guardian at the end of the world.
The jagged horizon
They define is final.
There is no world beyond.
There is only this one world
Between the sky border
Of their granite crests
And this mountain you climb.

This mountain you climb
Is only a dome,
And no higher in elevation
Than 9,000 feet.
At the summit
Of this mountain dome,
You will find
The remainder of the world
To the west,
With the broad valley
Of the San Joaquin,
And the Coast Ranges,
One solid ridge
Bordering that valley,
Purple in the distance,
Defining the Western Horizon.

But here on this shelf
No thought is possible
Of that other world.
There are only these magnificent peaks,
With their stark contrast
Of granite and ice
Under a pale blue sky.
The foreground between your shelf
And these peaks
Seems to sag under the weight
Of distance.
The valleys and canyons between
Stretch downward,
They are the victims of gravity,
A compensation for the elevation of the peaks.

You have climbed many of these peaks,
You have climbed this mountain dome before.
You come always to this shelf.
You come not because
The shelf
Is a place in itself.
You come instead,
Because of the greater place
Of which this shelf is a part.
Later, at the top of the dome,
You will have the
Three hundred and sixty degree view
That the the tops of mountains provide.
The top of this mountain
Is inescapably
A place of its own.
You will stand there
At the center of a vast world,
That for its circumference
Begs an echo
Of greater depth,
A depth that implies
The broad Pacific beyond the Coast Ranges,
And the deserts of Nevada to the East,
Beyond the peaks of the Sierra Crest.

This narrow shelf,
This shelf
Is another place.
It is a place like no place.
It is a shelf
Where your skis cannot gain a solid hold.
It is a place that offers no sense
Of discretion,
It owes its soul to communion
With the valleys and canyons between this
Mountain dome
And the Peaks of the Sierra Crest.

You can feel in its tenuous soul
An echo of your own.
You also,
Clinging here to this slope of frozen snow,
In the bitter shade
Of these giant firs
With their ancient beards of stag horn moss,
You also owe your soul,
Your complete identity
To communion with the peaks.
Your body like the canyons,
Sags under the weight
Of gravity,
Compensating for the elevation
of your soul
As it rises to meet
The eastern peaks.

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The west face of the mountain falls below you,
A steep precipice
Dropping into the Canyon of the South Fork.
You are surrounded by winter,
But as the land falls away from the peaks
Of the Sierra Crest,
The mountain tops only are covered in white,
And these in turn give way
To blue ridges
Like creases in a wrinkled carpet,
A spring snow melt stream
Beneath each one.
The foothills are in spring
Their meadowed slopes
Are riotous with golden poppies,
And blue lupine.
They roll their flowered carpet
Into the broad plain of the San Joaquin.
The Valley of The San Joaquin
Is hung with gray mist,
And tinged in purple.
As if a distillation of that mist,
The Hamilton Range, and to the north west,
Mt. Diablo,
Tired old sleeping Volcano,
Lurks over the cities of the bay,
Like some name cursed intruder,
At the doorstep of civilization,
An intruder in the garden cities,
Smelling of wilderness
Tainted by the illusion of evil.

In the foreground,
Almost immediately below you,
The namesake of that mountain,
Casa Diablo, rises vertically
Out of the Canyon of the South Fork.
It stands as the highest peak
On the northern ridge of the canyon.
You remember standing
At the bottom of the canyon
One spring day
At the base of Casa Diablo.
Where Devil's Creek
Joins the Merced.
The river was white with froth,
Running cold with the full flow
Of the snow melt of Wawona.
Casa Diablo rose ruggedly above you
Inaccessible and remote,
Proud and glorious,
Undeserving of its name.

The West is filled with names
That signify events
Of human scale,
Names that rise
From the old world view of wilderness.
That view
Painted a world beyond the city gate,
Filled with lurking powers.
Most of these were evil.
Wilderness was a place to test the soul,
A place of hardship and suffering.
It was the place of outcasts,
And the damned.

You sit on the fallen barkless corpse
Of a fir.
One twisted branch,
Thrust upright
As a hanger for your pack.
Clothed in gortex and capeline,
You are fit for the day.
Your well honed skis
Have carried you
Above the cold white surface
Through the winter forest
And up the mountain to this place.
Here you feast on oranges
And sweet bread
Filled with raisins.
You sit on the trunk of the fir
In the full sun.
You are filled with reverence
For the life it gave that you might sit
On this spring day
In the warmth and comfort
Of the western sun.

You will spend an hour here,
On a perfectly calm afternoon.
There is no visible human life but yours.
You sit in full view of
Half of the state of California
The invisible farms and cities,
Are lost beneath the valley mist,
Concealed in the shadow of Mt. Diablo.
But here on this dead tree
Perched on top of this mountain of snow,
You are immersed in pure wilderness.

The tools of your trade,
These skis,
These clothes of gortex cloth,
The synthetic insulation of capeline,
These are the only tools of civilization
That you have to shield you from winter
At eight thousand feet.
It is economy that defines wilderness,
It is economy that defines the tools
Of survival.
It is economy that makes man fit
For a place,
Or alien from it.

Without warmth,
your human body
Would not last the night.
Without out skis,
Each step would lead you to a labored death
In the white drifts.

Perhaps without your tools,
You also would lament this benign place
Of great beauty
And great peace.

Perhaps, you think,
It is not civilization that defines
The spirit of wilderness,
But instead our tools
And our economies.

The hunter's God,
Is in the heart of bear
And raven,
Watching over beast and man alike,
Nurturing both,
Creating a supernatural balance
For the land.
A balance for predator and prey,
The salmon, a gift of the sea,
For bear and man.
The deer a gift of the forest
For man and lion,
And all the while
Raven laughing,
The spirit of the benevolent God
In the land,
A God with the playfulness
Of the laughing wind,
Each stream to quench the soul
Of man and beast
Each water fall for the mirth of it.
Each spring bloom
To warm the wings
For the summer song of bees.

But in the early cities
huddled amidst the fields,
Agriculture was a god of its own,
Rife with fertility symbols,
And rituals,
Dances for the corn,
Dances for the ancestors left not behind,
But planted with the corn,
Nurturing in their graves
The spirits of the night,
Night walking ghosts of good
And evil will.
With agriculture came
The worship of the sun,
The sacrifice of plants
And the blood of livestock on the altar
Of the spirit of good harvest.

Beyond the walls of the cities,
And beyond the fertile fields,
The wilderness lay
Infertile and foreboding,
The breeding place of wolves,
And of lions,
The hyena
Laughing scornfully,
at those who sojourned there.
The tools of agriculture,
Were no match for the isolation
Of wilderness.

To the residents of those early cities and farms,
The wilderness was also filled
With the people of the nomadic societies,
Needed for trade,
But otherwise economically incompatible,
Herds to trample the crops,
And foul the streams.
And there were the northern tribes,
Horse mounted
And treacherous,
Worthy of being slain
As Cain slew Abel.

These nomads
Traveled with the seasons.
They were dependent upon green meadows
To feed their stock.
Geological anomalies were their sacred places.
Their God dwelt on mountains,
Mountains were the bridges
Between heaven and earth,
Mile stones on the soul's journey,
Trail markers on the annual journey
Of the flocks and herds.
Thus it was Moses,
An outcast of the agricultural cities of Egypt
Traveling with the flocks
Of his adopted Bedouin family,
Who met God on a mountain.
These nomads were a people of the wilderness,
Hunters with captured game,
Game bred to follow the season
Bred to be led by man.
Their God was a shepherd.
Watching over the flock of man.
He dwelt in high places.
His wrath was the wind,
His anger, fire and ice.

When Europeans came to this country,
They brought
The remnants and the actualities
Of all of these economies
With them,
Their ingrained understandings
Of themselves and God.
They brought,
The spirits of an old land
And enshrined these spirits early
In the agricultural colonies of the East.
Wilderness was defined
By a religious people
Oddly composed
Of the children of Cain
And of Abel.
Wilderness was defined
In their rituals,
In their printed beliefs,
By the tools
Of their economies.
This agricultural people pushed westward
Into pure wilderness,
Leaving the stories of their trials,
Their battles,
And their fears behind
In the names of rivers and valleys,
Mountains and deserts.
Death Valley,
The River of No Return,
Desolation Valley,
Casa Diablo.

They understood their God to speak to them
From the safe distance of old mountains
From lost places in the lost time of the Middle East,
In stories non native even to the European people.
Stories that were taught to their ancestors
Stories that displaced partially those ancestral gods.
The Europeans also brought to America
Their ancestral gods in fragments,
Stories of the Vikings told again
In the legends of the west,
Man bigger than man against the wilderness.
Those same supernatural super heroes
Live and battle through their familiar stories
In our homes today,
Religion popularized,
Stories that teach disembodied lessons
From a culture who's roots are severed.
They are our children's gods,
Not rooted to the land,
Not tied to the seasons.
Floating in their silver booths,
Electronic images,
Shuddering heads
Impaled by spikes
On the bridges of our consciousness,
Bridges not spanning the distance
Between Heaven and Earth,
Bridges leading into the vapor of lost culture.
It is these gods
Who died,
Not the one God of the universe
And of the land,
The Great Spirit
In his or her many manifestations.
The spirit of the four seasons,
The spirit of the harvest,
The spirit of the beauty and power
Of the natural world,
The spirit of the laughing brook,
The spirit of the raging falls,
That release the power
Of the Earth spinning
Condensed in the clouds
That shroud this mountain
In its winter blanket of snow.

The summit of Casa Diablo
Lies beneath your feet,
A mere 5,000 feet below.
You sit on the mountain of God,
Looking down on that summit.
The pure white of the winter snow
Allows no blemish.
All is purified in its pure wilderness.
It is a strange technology,
And a strange economy
That has brought you to this place.
Tools of the Middle East.
Distilled petroleum,
Fused organics,
Strung hard into plastic skis,
Woven in thin strands
Less hydroscopic than cotton,
A thin shield for your body,
Like the fur of coyote,
Like the black feathers of raven
Absorbing the heat
Of the winter sun,
While you perch
Upon this aged limb of fir.
Ore mined of the Eastern Seaboard,
Formed into steel edges
Honed to cut through the ice of winter.
Fruit of the tropics
To fuel you,
Sugar of the southern sun,
Brought by modern traders
Nomads of the air
And of the sea,
Caravans of trucks,
Petroleum fueled herds
Of the modern landscape,
Looming the world's
Remote cities
Into a deeply woven fabric.

We have assumed that
It is our choice,
That it is our choice
How we paint the face of God.
On this mountain
In the winter sun.
The forbidding form
Of Casa Diablo
Lurking over desert canyon shadows,
The bulging root,
Pregnant with new life
In the fertile
The face of the nomad,
Arm raised with sword
At the edge of the city,
Our political leaders
Absent by law
And by intent
Of spirit.

We can paint God in human form.
It is our custom to do so.
Here in the new world,
Our shallow concealment
Of ancestor worship,
Our dead Viking gods,
Are no more than man embellished,
Hidden in such shallow depths
Beneath the thin veneer of our
Assumed Judeao-Christian culture.
It is our choice.
It is in choosing, our demise.

The choice is not
As we have imagined
Throughout all time.
It is not ours to choose the face of God.
Our choice is but one simple choice.
That choice is the choice
Of openness,
Of emptiness,
The choice of acceptance.
It is the choice
Of capeline,
This strange dark fabric
Of our invention.
It is the choice to be open to the full winter sun
To absorb the pure light
Of existence.
It is the choice to be open to wilderness.
It is the choice to be open to the wilderness
Of this glorious world in which we live,
And the wilderness of the human soul.
To accept human embodiment of this soul,
To paint the face of God in human form
Is to paint the lie
Of man as the creator of God.
It is this lie,
This hidden lie
That we feed our children,
This lie of human power and human control
Over wilderness.
We have only to be open
To the warmth of the sun,
Open to the song
Of the night sky,
The myriad stars
In their celestial dance,
To know that human form
Is not indelible.
The night stars placed as they are
In the heavens in families
Of light years,
Do not echo human life,
But we do
Echo theirs.
The ridges receding from this place
Walk eternally in their flowing
In streams of snow melt
Trout eyed
These mountains
Walk in the stride of God,
Not man.

This wilderness,
Is the home of God.
It is by the grace of God
That we find it
With our shallow economies,
Blended of the myths
Of our ancient
Unreconciled pasts.
Economies layered
on an icon
In human form.

On the trunk of the old dead fir,
The scattered peels of orange
And the plastic bag
Stained with raisin.

You have encompassed a mountain,
Climbing from the depths of the forest
Into the light of the western sun.

You have made yourself open
To the light of the inhuman world.
You have climbed
As far beyond civilization
As the tools of civilization will allow.

It is in this place of wilderness,
That Moses found God,
It is in this place of wilderness
That the ancient hunter
Found the mystery
Of the open heart.
There is nothing
But this open heart
And silence.

Above you in the western sky
The sun hangs low.
Casting threads of golden light
across the mountain peaks,
Each peak is radiant
With its golden light.

From an extended branch
Of a lightning struck pine
On the slope beneath you,
Two ravens rise
In a sweeping dance,
One gyre of symmetry,
Extended black wings,
Glinting spears of light
Bridging the chasm
Between heaven and earth,
Then rising against the sun,
They cast a shadow
With their feathered wings.
It is the shadow of God.

Across the broad space
Between these rising forms
And your open eyes,
The call of beating hearts,
The hearts of these two,
And your heart.
Two raven voices
From the distant space between
the golden peaks and the sun,
The voices of the open heart.

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