Base Camp

How much oxygen
to ask a question,
to rattle a crack-lipped
a one-word lie?

Other animals exist
in an endless present—
ice and light,
speed or crawl, waves
of whatever is this and now.

Of course there’s us—
the only breathing bodies
free enough not
to show up to ourselves,
for whom, if we can

summon strength,
being anywhere
is always in doubt.
Why? Why bother?
Because what is there?

With everything
our bodies know,
strong or broken,
we never have the luxury
of making ourselves simple.

Everywhere is always
uneasy, an altitude
of sudden storms, weak
footholds, frostbite, crevasse,
black and blue terrain.


About this poem:

"I wrote this poem last year, trekking for a month in the Himalayas in the early spring, when the snow was melting at lower altitudes but a moody storm season had settled in. Early in the trek, I received news that the same flight from Kathmandu to base camp I had taken just two days before crashed on the mountain landing strip. Only a few passengers survived. I was startled into this poem by the mute severity of the mountains, the precariousness of life, how doubtful our foothold."

Tom Healy

Copyright © 2013 by Tom Healy. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.