Wild Words: The Climb by Helen Mort

Extracted with permission for 'Wild Words' from the book Waymaking

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The Climb by Helen Mort

The climb begins
under cigarette-smoke sky
below a rock’s mossed fin.

No. The climb begins
in sinew, muscles twitching
on the landscape’s brim

above a saucer-valley:
Langdale, crossed by rivers
you could almost dive in.

No. The climb begins
with rain, battering
the Old Dungeon Ghyll

where you sit
with your battered guidebook
by the battered windowsill.

The climb begins
in your ice-blue Ford,
the wheels’ manic spin,

your face framed
in the rear view mirror briefly
like a lost twin,

the radio, your rucksack
the pale quartz
of your chin.

The climb begins
with thought, it’s static
electricity against your skin,

begins with stone-fall
memory, loud,
the way the thunder sings,

a baritone, how lightning
once forked past you
left the branches singed.

The climb begins
with sleepless nights
the strange stone of your whim.

The climb begins
on days there’s nothing to be done
and nothing you can bring,

the silence you live in,
holding a quickdraw
bright as a wedding ring.

The climb begins
on a nameless slab, the place
where the holds get thin,
now thinner. It begins
in your held breath
your sudden rictus grin,

your reach, your
balance, how a magpie
skims and settles, prim

below you in the copse,
how the sheep all scatter
with their scattered din,

how a walker passes,
holds his solitude
like a priceless violin,

how the river starts
to beckon you, glassy
with its dark mossed trim.

The climb begins
the moment you undress
and start to swim.


You start the climb
when you squint up at the buttress
for the perfect line,

when you lift your hands
and they fit the rhyolite
like an end-rhyme.

No. You start the climb
with thoughts that knock
against each other, chime

like the gear
on your harness, twist
like a sling’s blue twine

when you’re so alive
you lift a bottle and your tongue
turns water into wine

when you stand
in summer’s firing line

and Cumbria’s a glass
of heat, the sun’s
a slice of lemon rind.

You start the climb
when you’re done with patience,
done with being kind.

when your nerve
is a thin seam of frozen
water, stilled in wintertime

no matter how your feet
slip, how the holds
are slick with shine.

You start the climb
with the sudden focus
of a mountain guide,

you start it
like a careful mourner
at a gold-edged shrine

you start it
in the last vertebrae
of your long spine

in your blunt fingernails
and your hair’s
loose vine

you start with
breath and blood
that could be mine.

You start the climb
with no love, no name,
no fear in the mind.

The Climb by Helen Mort was taken with permission from Waymaking - an anthology of prose, poetry and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape. Order a copy of Waymaking.

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