Rock Climbing with Snyder

      by Billy Marshall-Stoneking

When we couldn’t get up the waterfall
we went over the top of the mountain,
up the side of a cliff. Up the gorge
past Purlka Karrinya—Warangula’s country,
Central Australia—no pines, no snow.
Scrabbling in the old land; continuing
the same journey Kerouac had continued
thirty years before.
Snyder, talking about niches and
dharma, found rock wallaby shit
halfway up. The rocks
fitted together like
a Chinese puzzle. Okay.
Easier now. Don’t look back,
don’t look down.
Find handhold.
Find foothold.
Push up.
Press against the stone.
Hook leg over rock.
Not too fast. Listen to the wind.
To the cicadas. There are spirits
in this place. Don’t be cocky.
No-one’s famous here.
Don’t offend the ancestors.
Follow the old man.
Too far gone to go back, Snyder turns
and says: “You’re six years old
and this is a big playground.”


Is this how Kerouac felt
following you up the Matterhorn?

Fuck the literature!
Get to the top.
Firm rock is heaven. Not hanging off the side.

Finding a foothold
Finding a handhold
No haiku in this but sweat.

From Singing the Snake: Poems from the Western Desert 1979–1988, Sydney Australia: Angus and Robertson, 1990. Purlka means “big or huge.”