A Tattoo of Writhing Naked Men
Chimes at Brantwood peal at noon.
Halfway down Pack I feel the sound
crease the distance, ruffling leaves
and competing with a wood thrush.
The children at the camp will scoot
from tennis and basketball courts
to meals shoveled on paper plates.
A few yards downhill at the foot
of a slope of glacial boulders
a fellow hiker points her camera
at a mushroom. She stops me to talk.
A tattoo of writhing naked men
adorns her right arm. She poses
so I can admire the flow of ink
embedded in her tawny flesh,
but I’m in that footloose mood
that comes over me while hiking
and can hardly focus on the glint
of her metallic sea-blue eyes.
We swap a few reckless phrases
and I escape with my ego intact.
I refuse to watch her ascend
the rock slope behind me. Instead
I examine the mushroom she stopped
to photograph. An ordinary
cluster of hypholoma, wilted
pale caps slightly cone-shaped:
edible but hardly choice. She paused
not for the photo but to confront
my clumsy descent in terms
very much in her favor. The cries
of kids at the camp still register
in trebles no one would mistake
for birdsong. My footfall on rock
scuffs along with a furtive sound
of which I’m not proud. That woman
will reach the summit in half
an hour. When she overlooks
the view, the landscape from here
to Boston, Sunapee, Ascutney
will veil itself in windy gauze,
embracing her primal aesthetic
in a gesture of mutual grace.