Thinking of Sophia

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A poem by Roger Suva

I

The dark cinnamon bark of the high Sierra dogwood
glistened red and purple-black in the bright spring sun
hardly a bud bulging in its branches, already beautiful.

Even the willows, a hide-out for deer and grouse were
more brown than green, the aspen leafless along the river
snowdrifts lying alongside the mountain across the trail.

The promise of summer lay sweet and succulent all along
the wet, green valley yet rimmed with snow and storm cloud.

Every evening the pregnant does and yearlings would come
feed on the gooseberry and current, the new growth of white fir.

Stalks that would become flowers were inches high on hillsides
that drained melting snow in rivulets and streams relentlessly
seeking the East Fork of the Kaweah River, swelling it further.

The small round leaves and petite flowers of the violets
growing in the gravel, anchored by larger stones, were just
a promise of the color coming to this special place
where hope glistened red and purple-black dogwood
its sweetness like Sophia’s, still hidden, yet revealed
in the swellings along its graceful, gently curving limbs.

II

Where the ground is wet, where moss and columbine thrive
and the dogwood is fully leafed, long and lush green
its slender limbs bearing luxuriant clusters of tiny white flowers
fragrant as the boldest apple blossom, a kind of harmony occurs.

In the wet black mud a tiger lily shoots up through the dogwood
on a six foot stalk, two dozen flowers circling it, wearing a 25th
not yet open, as a promise and a crown I step down to smell.

Each one emits a floral, slightly musky scent like the sweetness
of the most expensive perfume, powerful, yet understated just enough.

The atmosphere in such a place is so intangible that only your spirit
can truly command it as experience, or as a fact which can change
your perception, your understanding of time and place and truth
and what you know about seeking and longing and hope, about love.

The hillside above is an artist’s pallet of Indian paintbrush
lupine, flowering grasses, Chinese lanterns and yellow suns.

The aspen quakes in the breeze, causes the light to play
with the shadows --- so the light is both seen and heard.

The tiger lily clings to the dogwood, seducing it with its strong
scent and lusty yellow-orange color, flecked with carmine.

I think of Sophia standing in this place with me, her sweetness
mingling with mine, as comfortable together, as alive
as this hillside is falling toward the river --- as in Eden---
the original river where the spirit runs together into one.

III

The valley is still, varying shades of lush green, and the
river rushes less head-long through the grasses and willows
and corn lilies where the high alpine valley is flatter and wider.

I spy a pond forming on the west side of the river where it winds
through the glacially- carved valley, cutting its own channels, hugged
by the willows, embraced by beds of gravel and white granite boulders.

Two marmots whistle their objections to my intrusion
when I swerve off the trail down to the flatness by the river
looking for that pond and thinking slow, deep water and trout
for dinner, remembering how Sophia would love to fish here.

The pond is perfect; I quickly hook and net two golden rainbows
just large enough to keep, and continue to walk up-river
to Aspen Flat where the old campgrounds were at road’s end.

Baby’s breath covers the site; gently I touch it with my palm
just like I touched Sophia’s face and she breathed into my hand
the last time I saw her before I went away, knowing inside
we seek the same things, hoping to find them in each other ---
as the summer winds on and the berries ripen.

IV

Back on the trail I hike up the south end of the valley
cross Franklin Creek, climb through the gorge, green grass
melting snow, blue sky and switchbacks, leaning into the climb
toward Farewell Gap, the valley behind and below me
beyond the shoulder of Tulare Peak, and I stop in my tracks
not yet willing, if at all, to say goodbye to the valley
or to that intangible metamorphoses directing my steps.

I turn and begin my descent like a horse smelling home
eager to view the unspoiled valley falling into the distance.

I come year after year to this soft, green place scraped out of granite
by geological forces like those that created the softness of Sophia.

I rewind the switchbacks; soon the matchless panorama
of the Mineral King valley stretches out before me, gently
falling in levels as I descend, surrounded by mountains thick with
fir and plentiful with streams and waterfalls feeding the river.

There Sophia lay far below me, a river full of fish running
through her, my feet moving quickly, grasses catching the wind
as I embrace the shape and beauty of her form, and pack for home.

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