Contemplation: Billy Goat Trail

Out here, on these vicious rocks that come at me
in sharp angles and steep climbs, I search
for the oneness, wholeness, the entire anthology

of being. This craggy scramble over thick bushes,
stony slides—could mark my end, this revolving
around and around while the trail disappears,

dirt beneath my sneakers harder than crash
landings. Good times, horrible moments, bad
fantasies all fade from view as I assess this view;

these waterfalls, so thrilling with their relentless
splash, constant surges assure all movements
left are dangerous, and I remember

the warning signs at the trailhead, hazardous
Potomac home to accidents, suicides, the razor
line between. I long for a safe way out, for

the touristy gift shop and historic displays,
calm canal and towpath with its sleek
bicyclists and tottering children. On the rocks,

blue paint splashes mark the way
back to safety, and I need to skin a knee
before I settle down, breathe my business here.

Thinking, shifting my weight from
foot to foot, I dangle mid-air,
squat and cling to each rock face

that could either cut me or save me,
trusting the right path will find these
feet, hands, this steady shaking body.

Allison Joseph is the author of six collections of poetry, including Imitation of Life and My Father’s Kites. She has edited the Crab Orchard Review with her husband Jon Tribble since 1995. Through the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, she and Tribble nurture to publication two outstanding volumes of poetry each year. Joseph is an associate professor and director of the creative writing program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is the founder and director of the Young Writers Workshop, an annual summer residential creative writing workshop for high school writers.
*Photo courtesy of James Sullivan.
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