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.”