She is old, though not so old as the mountain.
But the mountain is gone and she remains.
Outside her window at dawn the mockingbird
has forgotten his voice, sings only
the beep and grind of machinery.
She rises early to peer from her window
at the huge uprooted boulder that teeters
high above her house. Still there—
she must be still alive. She lies back down
to plunge beneath the alien tangles in her brain,
thick as kudzu on the slopes above,
to go deeper and deeper into the farthest forests
of memory, under the layers of brown dust
that turn to sludge in every rain,
past the boarded windows,
the looted houses of her neighbors.
Her ruined mind is free to wander the lost coves
in search of goldenseal and ginseng,
though she finds the healing herbs
have strangely lost their power. She climbs
through hickory, maple, sassafras and cherry,
toward the graveyard she can visit now
without an appointment or a hard hat,
without that coal-company fellow dogging along behind.
She pauses to gaze over the lines of hills, blue beyond
blue. The clarity of light pierces deep inside her mind,
stirs up two words she’s often heard
but cannot grasp—demented and overburden.
Mountain and forest, poplars aching
toward distant sky, the song of the wood thrush
melting down the bones, stone and oak and doe
and the shimmering mayfly’s wing—
all this—they call it “overburden.”
She calls it home.
And that other word, “demented”—
that’s what they say is wrong
with her, yet she’s not the one
who turned the world all topsy-turvy,
fertile Earth buried under barren rock,
veins choked and valleys filled with rubble
crushed from the mountain’s ruptured heart.
But the knots and tangles of her brain
won’t hold to recent memory. She steps
between thick branches, out of shadow
into a sunlit, silent glade where—yes—
the mourning cloaks still gather,
more abundant now than ever,
and rise in gyres dark against the sky.
Written River 2:2, winter 2011