Timothy Murphy’s latest collection is Devotions (North Dakota State University Press).

Alan’s Ranges

Batholiths upthrust from their ancient sea,
the shattered sandstones clinging to their shoulders,
           the jumbled summit boulders
for young rock hoppers such as you and me,

drew us in youth, yearning forever west
to flee our graveled grandeur, the Great Plains,
           shucking my farmer’s chains,
to put our boots and backpacks to the test.

Cascades, so young they seemed but cinder cones.
Back to the granites of the Great Divide
           and ponies we would ride
to catch an earful from the pedal tones

of God’s creation, the retreating shore
where the uplifting peaks within us soar.


Dream Before Dawn

Alan, we’re still switchbacking up one peak,
dusty our boots, treeless the camp we seek,
rocks where the pikas scream their screeching squeak.

You have made your summit ahead of me
as usual, krumholtz, the knee high tree
on which we pitch our packs.  What do you see?

I think you see what I glimpse far below
on the high prairie where the blizzards blow
and bury my brother farmers deep in snow.

Looking aloft you see a sky we’ll make
black as the course which I will overtake,
obsidian my steel has yet to flake,

the black that terrifies you as a child
and then exalts you when you’re growing wild.


Hiking All Night

Alan, last night we hiked a forest road
under construction.  There a stark massif
soared in the wintry air.  Trivial load
our daypacks, surely three miles of relief,

so this was no trail we had hiked before,
no trail on earth of which this hiker knows,
tree line our goal, where pines break on a shore
of rock upthrust into the realm of snows

we reached, cramponed, with ropes that I could splice.
We broke for lunch beside a gurgling stream
green with the flour of granite ground by ice,
a jasmine tea discolored by no cream.

Our waking world not always what it seems,
I love it when you come to me in dreams.


Upper and Lower Tree Lines

Tree belts grow narrower when we set forth
to climb ranges further and further north
from xeric basins to the rock and snow
where only crazed backpackers care to go,
pikas, marmots, ravens and mountain goats,
none of them fattened on our flatland oats.

Far in the North there are no trees at all,
ranges unforested, each stony wall
soaring above the tundra and the sea,
and there sometimes I dream of you and me
carrying canteens to a modest peak
where an expansive view is all we seek,

where I am twenty-two, you twenty-four,
eight long degrees north of a forest floor.



Four months, four dreams, all set at altitude
you longed to reach, born by the Hudson River.
Westward fifty degrees of longitude,
layered in woolens so we wouldn’t shiver
above ten thousand feet on mountain meadows
blossoming wildly in their three week season,
no lodgepole pines to cast their fragrant shadows,
our urge to climb a most unearthly reason
for such exertions, that and the dusty prairie
we left behind, the drought, the debt, the anger,
all for our scrambles where the pitch was scary,
campfires occasion for exhausted languor.

Old friend, give my regards to our Redeemer.
I’m studying to be an expert dreamer.

Published in the May 19, 2017 issue: View Contents

Timothy Murphy, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, died on June 30 at his home in Fargo, North Dakota. His books include Very Far North (2002), Mortal Stakes and Faint Thunder (2011), and Devotions (2017). Requiescat in pace.

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