I have climbed the backs of gods too. It's not so
strange, dressed in heavy coat and boots, hat
pulled down to the eyebrows, cheeks windburnt,
gloved fingers numb, and each brief breath prayed
upon, each step thrown onto the loose altar of stone.
Blinded by spires of light, I've looked away
as the unblemished blue splintered in all directions.
And I've backed away from the sheer
precipice, the infinite suddenly a fearful measure,
the way down to tundra and the jagged maze of
granite, leaving only a crevice in which to cower.
I've lain on the steep slopes of night under spruce,
wrapped against rain and cold, and watched clouds
explode in my face. Stark boughs reached
then sagged back in a sweeping, resolute silence.
I was shaken loose by thunder and lightning,
like the small girl, named Juanita by strangers.
She tumbled a hundred yards down
Nevado Ampato peak, her whereabouts unquestioned
for five hundred years until a nearby volcano
began a festering eruption, thawing the slope,
and wrapped in her illiclia shawl woven in the ancient
Cuzco tradition, wearing a toucan- and parrot-feathered
headdress, her frozen fetal posture a last effort
at warmth above tree line amid ice fields, there
to address and redress for rain and maize, for
full vats of fermenting beer, plentiful llama herds,
for the civilized sacrifice, to be buried alive and wait
in private, as we all do to speak with our gods, hoping
to appease, to know, to secure the illusive cosmic
machinery, and in that last numb moment her left
hand gripped her dress for the intervening centuries.