Most of my life I’ve believed what these eyes see
these hands can touch, that seeing and touching, being touched,
ends when they nail the coffin lid on.
But, my mother, your grandma, had the last word
on this creed the fall after she died,
when I saw her one last time.
I’d started late, ridden slow, dawdling.
Thinking, if at all, of her and the frontier
between those who love that you’re always crossing,
never conquering and that darkens and closes
suddenly and irrevocably when one of you goes.
When you’re like that in winter mountains,
night slips down, sly, a panther’s shadow,
first a hint of something dark in shadows,
then, it’s on you, quick. Blank cold.
So, it was full brittle winter night
when I reached camp and learned a visitor
had been to dine and left a mess for “thank you.”
Bear by all sign. Leveled, tent shredded.
White mounds in snow. My late night breakfast gone
to a gamier paunch than mine. Gone. And suddenly
it was dark with a dark you could almost touch.
I salvaged what I could by touch in dark,
tented tarp scraps and tatters over
my rope, tree to tree. Swept a floor
with mittened hand down to ground.
The fire shook shadowy fringes in the dark.
Wind has a sound in winter mountains, a mournful
hymn-like thrum that tells you nothing’s there
in ways that shape what might be.
I couldn’t sleep. Started thinking how iffy
the drift is between wake and sleep,
quick and not, just a slip,
like a fish you’ve touched, nearly landed,
your hand numb in water, almost feeling,
then it’s gone, a shimmer in water shadows.
Then, she was there. Jennie.
Mother, the way I knew her before
the war, not young
like her picture there,
but in her prime, the way
you always know your mother.
She was there
like your hand is there
on the table, and
she spoke to me.
‘why don’t you have more faith, son?
Where’s your faith?’
She said my name in her gentle voice.
That’s all she said. I don’t know what I answered.
I said something. Don’t remember sleeping.
It wasn’t sleep. Sleep I would know.
But I was sitting there with the air of something
I’d been saying lingering in the frost of my breath.
I’ll stop with that because it’s all I know.
Besides, your smirk tells me you wonder
if your dad is touched, if I believe
she breached the grave to caress, once more
cool as stone, the rasp of this old beard.
‘Course not, no more than I fingered that bear
that welfared on my supper in the mountains.
But both were real as the shadow of your thumb—
there where you rub it on your coffee cup.
I thank my father who told me this story. And though the elements of hospitality in it are peripheral, they are in it. “Hunter’s Visitation” appears in Have, a collection of poems by Lee Robison that will be published and released in the fall of 2019 by WordTech Communications under their David Robert Book Imprint.
“Hunter’s Visitation” first appeared in Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought.