Black and White
by John C. Mannone
Journal entry, May 30, 1979
Wind River Wilderness, Wyoming
The landscape is vivid Kodachrome and it is warm this Memorial Day weekend. I start to hike up the backcountry to camp in the mountains: nylon straps tension against my shoulders, hips torque to legs and my hiking staff stabs the ground for balance. I bulldog up the mountain to the flower-whitened knoll. Its soft grass sways in Wind River wind, which whispers words to me. I feel the solace of this place, the pine-scented truth, ethereal yet tangible, if only for a moment. I am with friends, but I am alone.
Where are you?
It snowed five inches overnight! I trudge downhill a few hundred feet down to the black river, my thoughts still heavy. Water plunges into cascades smoothing granite that was once hard grey, but now is slick—its atoms dissolving. Pine trees sentinel the glacier-scoured valley that was hollowed-out millions of years ago. How did the valley learn to grab the night cold and wrap itself in the morning with white? Yesterday’s dirt is tucked under the snow quilt. My dome tent, like an igloo, stands stark against the black and white water; ice blades jab the riverbank.
How many times has this drama played-out? How many times have I heard the wind rush the words into my ears? Into my heart? Everything here is true.
Even the sparrow has found a home
and the swallow, a nest for herself…
Don’t be afraid; you are worth more
than many sparrows.1
The black-capped chickadees, dressed white, scamper the rimed glaze and peck the ice, picking conifer seeds there, dropped as manna. They leave imprints, a wedged mosaic of frozen dance steps. I want to listen to their music, hear their secrets about love.
I lie down next to them. Stay still. Perhaps they’ll think I’m some kind of bird-god in blue—goose down shell, pileated toboggan; my sweater-arms fold as if red wings. But I am the one who is praying for answers to the cold-chiselled questions glyphed here on a blackboard of snow.
Across the river, an elk bugles for his mate, his cries echo off the rocks, wind-worn; the cliff-face stares at the brutal loneliness—its silence is hushed by a solitary sagebrush.
1A conflation of Psalm 84:3 and Luke 12:7
John C. Mannone has over 550 works published in venues such as Gyroscope Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Inscape Literary Journal, Windhover, 2016 Texas Poetry Calendar, Baltimore Review, Pedestal, Pirene’s Fountain, Event Horizon Magazine, Raven Chronicles and Drunk Monkeys. He’s been awarded a 2016 Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities writing residency and has two literary poetry collections, including one on disability, Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press, Dec 2015) featured at the 28th Southern Festival of Books. He won the 2015 Joy Margrave award for creative nonfiction in the Tennessee Mountain Writers contest. His meditative essay, “breeding lilacs of the dead land” appears in There’s This Place I Know… (ed. H. L. Hix and Heather Lang, Serving House Books 2015). He edits poetry for Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex and he’s a college professor of physics in east Tennessee. Visit his blog here.