We hiked along a gray summit trail
where wild grass was slapped flat
from winter’s rough hands.
The trails were easy, even without compass
we found our way, yet oddly, redbud trees
lit the dead woods with a color of discomfort.
We had walked miles, circled hidden groves
that clung to their dried fruits, admired those unwilling
to drop summer’s bounty.
We managed to avoid certain dangers—
(yes, the path was uneven), it was the edge
of things, a ledge or trail’s end we shied from.
In the weeds a painter set an easel and brushed
a slice of moon into his sky. We wondered
if it was waxing or waning, or if that even mattered.
As we walked toward the forest edge a red-tailed hawk
swooped our caps. From the whoosh of wings, small birds
scattered like dry leaves. We crouched. We waited, disquieted.
Hundreds of peepers were silenced by the movements
of the hawk. When danger passed, the soundscape re-emerged:
the drill of a woodpecker, the trilling of frogs,
all rose higher into a full chorus, the marsh rippled
with life. We stood, talked of temple bells,
crisp and sure, the hands that held them,
and how they ring
Our hotel was built to hang
off cliffs with an overlook
above the Adriatic. We’d traveled
far, managed the Rome airport,
rented a Volvo, and driven unknown—
two tourists passing through dark mouths
of mountains on roads that coiled
to the sea. It was late to entertain
fear. Hadn’t we always lived midair?
That night we sat on a veranda,
our glasses clinked a cheer or two
and we noticed the moon rise
from the water as waves
seemed to give the needed lift
and curled around its bright edges.
You pointed to the illuminated cliffs,
where waves and wind carved
limestone, created cracks
and fissures. Rocks serve
witness to the sea,
tall ships and drowned sailors,
eras of pleasure and plunder. We overheard
the repeated beating and wash,
the moan of polished stones,
as if rocks spoke straight into our faces.
Karen June Olson lives in St. Louis, Missouri. Her poems have appeared here at 2River, The Mas Tequila Review, Third Wednesday, Tipton Poetry Journal, and UCity Review. Her chapbook Living Midair is forthcoming (2River, Spring 2019).