June 14, 2024


Inspired By Travel

Suszynski: Stay wakeful | VailDaily.com

I waited all winter for this past week. I didn’t realize it would be the very last week of the season, when the crowds finally left our small ski town, when I could walk through Vail Village with my arms flung out, not touching another body, when I could ski onto the lift, ride the gondola without another person, and arc turns down Northstar without worrying about people standing on the other side of the rollers.

But the mountain does not feel the same. The mountain, awash in swathes of mud, pierced through with stones, embarrassed by its bald patches, its lack of clothing, its inability to cover itself, the mountain is a little worse for wear.

I can sense the mountain’s vulnerabilities. Perhaps you do too on this last day of the winter, whether you’re flying above it in a chairlift, assessing which paths have embraced the sun, which paths will lead to grassy endings. Or maybe you see the furrowed brow of the mountain from the highway, it staring in concentration at its sores, at Pepi’s Face with its hoppable dirt patches, like a poorly tended beard. The Golden Peak racecourse stubbornly holds on.

“If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun,” said philosopher Alain de Botton. I whisper this to the hairy hill below Chair 5 for the last time, and we both feel better.

Maybe I am looking at the mountain in the wrong way. Perhaps it is opening up to me.

When thinking of these contradictions, the very same contradictions that we all live with, I turn to Gwendolyn Brooks. In a 1990 lecture in Chicago for Poetry Day, Brooks echoed a sentiment she previously outlined in her book “Young Poet’s Primer:” “In writing your poem, tell the truth as you know it. Tell your truth. Don’t try to sugar it up. Don’t force your poem to be nice or proper or normal or happy if it does not want to be. Remember that poetry is life distilled and that life is not always nice or proper or normal or happy or smooth or even-edged.”

On Friday, I woke up to flakes falling. When I arrived to the mountain, the dirt was less visible. Just below the surface, the vulnerabilities were less in number, or rather less discernible but nonetheless present.

Brooks continues her lecture with a reading from her longform poem titled “Winnie:” “I pass you my Poem! — to tell you/ we are all vulnerable — / the midget, the Mighty, / the richest, the poor. / Men, women, children, and trees. / I am vulnerable. / Hector Pieterson was vulnerable.”

During the Soweto Uprising of 1976 in South Africa, Pieterson was shot and killed when police open fired on Black high-school-aged protesters. When I read this poem in these times, Pieterson’s name also stands alongside George Floyd Daunte Wright Adam Toledo — a terrifyingly long name that stretches far back in history and will continue forward if something does not change.

Like a spring dusting in a stretch of a dry two weeks, it seems life has its own way of moving forward even if it’s progress of a few inches. “Wherever life can grow, it will. / It will sprout out, / and do the best it can,” Brooks says.

In this small mountain town, I can see the pains of the world on the faces of the mountains that surround us. We are removed up here, at a high elevation, but the laws of nature, both its regenerative properties and destructive laws, have equally important lessons to show us of our humanity. For out of vulnerability, strength is capable of growing.

Brooks says: “I give you what I have. / You don’t get all your questions answered in this world. / How many answers shall be found / in the developing world of my Poem? / I don’t know. Nevertheless I put my Poem, / which is my life, into your hands, where it will do the best it can.”

Perhaps vulnerabilities are just questions that haven’t been answered. Maybe we feel vulnerable because we put these questions to each other, hoping for an answer and desperately wishing it is the answer we want to hear. The feeling of expectation and then silence is what makes us feel too soft to handle a harder truth.

Embarrassment, anger, sadness, those single-toned emotions, are visible across the face of the mountain just as they are visible on my own face. When we try to smooth out the wrinkles, to cover those stones with snow, we’ll get snagged by what’s below the surface.

Brooks says, “I am not a tight-faced Poet.”

“I am tired of little tight-faced poets sitting down to / shape perfect unimportant pieces. / Poems that cough / lightly — catch back a sneeze. / This is the time for Big Poems, / roaring up out of sleaze, / poems from / ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood. / This is the time for stiff or viscous poems. / Big, and Big.”

I hold vigil and strike a match to the candle. The vulnerabilities of a nation, of a history, my own vulnerabilities, flicker against the wall in shadow. Tight-faced, we must not be. Big and bigger, we can rise to stay wakeful of each other’s vulnerabilities.