A Nest of Skulls

I enjoy the holidays immensely, but dropping temperatures and the graying trees usually just make me wish for spring and summer. One of my favorite trails is the Deep Creek Trail, which runs through the Smoky Mountain National Park. There’s a lower mile-long section of this trail that’s popular with tourists, joggers and tubers; but the entire trail is about 15 miles long, and I like to hike its length once every year or two. I hiked it earlier this year in the spring and began this poem then. I recently returned to it, and this is the finished product.


We had hiked the trail two years before.
They hadn't been there then--
boulders white as bone,
great eggs sitting
in a nest of hollowed earth,
misshapen but whole
and perhaps a shape that was
not a mis at all
but only unknown and
older than me
or anything I'd known.
The trail had been made
but in places unmade,
having remade itself.

The stones had been there before,
only under cover of earth
and root, now made
bare by a creek
that had swollen above its banks.
The trail had vanished,
but only there, where
a stairwell of root
forced us down into the nest.
I went first without a thought,
and standing in
that Golgothan gathering of
bleached skull tops,
was surrounded by the rise and
whisper-touch of Spring Azure.
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