I Went West – Ben Mast

I was drown-gasping, wearing the ache of ice-laced lungs
that kissed each step as the Mountain watched me slip,
and though He loved me, He didn’t reach for me once.
I tried to balance against a memory of an Indiana sidewalk,
birdsong taunting me as I brushed aside stabbing pine.
My family sat wondering and warm a quarter-clock away.
They urged a fire hotter, read their devotional softer,
while the Mountain and I stared a contest into Washington skies
blown gray and blue in March. He had by now learned
the cornered gait of the Mennonite. For the last few weeks
He’d watched me find the West that He’d carefully engineered,
a city collected in the gauntlet of two ranges and puddled
between lake and ocean, lorded over by his searing gaze,
and now He drank me, swallowed me into a boy and a backpack,
slurped me down, a cold spring at the end of a hike.
He glared when I told him I couldn’t climb, glared colder,
and from the way the wind changed I knew His back had turned,
until finally I reached for Him, stroked His snow-scratched ribs,
cooed at his teeming juncos and corvids. I pulled my hands
through the ice-glossed mud of Him, bayed off a rocky ledge
to let my echo soothe His windy heaves. When I asked Him
what is this place, there was no answer except the push of
His hot breath, shifting the winter into a way—a way up.

Ben MastBenjamin Mast’s stories and poems have been published in Prometheus Dreaming, The Write Launch, The Phoenix, Mikrokosmos, and The Closed Eye Open. He grew up in a small Mennonite community in northern Indiana and has since moved to Seattle, where he lives with his boyfriend.