Among the many lives you'll never lead
consider that of the wolverine, for whom avalanche
is opportunity, who makes a festival
of frozen marrow from the femur of an elk,
who wears the crooked North Star like an amulet
of teeth. In the game of which animal
would you return as, today I'm thinking
snowshoe hare, a scuffle in the underbrush,
one giant leap. You never see them
coming and going, only the crosshairs
of their having passed, ascending the ridge, lost
or not lost in succession forests giving way
to open meadow where deep snow
lingers and finally relents, uncovering
acres of lily - glacier yellow, avalanche
white - daylight restaking its earthly claim.
Every season swallows someone -
Granite Mountain with its blunderbuss
gullies, Tatoosh a lash on the tongue,
those climbers caught if not unawares
then perfectly hapless, not thinking of riding
that snowstorm to the summit, not thinking
wolverine fever in the shivering blood,
not thinking steelhead cutthroat rainbow
or the languid river that will carry them out.
I like this poem, though it's difficult for me to explain why. At its most basic, it's a series of imaginative exercises, putting oneself in the place of various animals seen along a (presumably snowy) mountain climb. The descriptions flow freely from one to another, in and out of various skins, from environment to environment, like the "giant leap" of the snowshoe hare.
I feel like the hare, while reading this, "lost or not lost." The moment in which I am able to orient myself is in the second to last stanza. A sudden moment of clarity "Every season swallows someone." At least one climber dies every year, and they're never thinking about all of these imaginative scenarios, these beautiful nature scenes, or of any fear, any animal instinct. The climbers are caught "unawares then perfectly hapless." The climbers are helpless against nature in the end, and yet we persist on climbing anyways. In a way, I think Craft admires that tenacity. Why else write this poem?