I Promise, Part II

Have you returned

Ever

Or is this shell before me

But an empty

Vessel,

Which waves of time

Have carried to the shore?

/

In the storms

You’ve weathered

Have you been able to preserve

From certain

Drowning

Your heart – your precious gift,

Your heavy burden?

/

Sleeping with Death

Nightly

I fear you may have found

In her calm eyes

The peace and quiet, which

Unlike me,

Would never let you go?

/

Can you even

Hear me,

Standing before me as you are:

Callously smiling

At questions, which to you

Must sound

Pathetic and naïve?

/

I listen,

I listen…

And only wish I had for you

A soothing answer:

Can’t say the words

You wait and want

From me:

/

I have returned,

Truly,

As much of me, that is,

As there remains,

But, surely, much it is not

And none of it

Is good

/

No ropes, no anchors,

No sails

And no one at the helm

To steer it,

That’s me, the vessel, which at last

Has found this beautiful,

Long-dreamed-of port

/

The vessel’s vaults

Are all empty;

Not even rats now lurk across

Its rotten insides,

Where no one enters, 

Save for winds

And ghosts

/

Its cannons

Are quiet

But painful to behold,

Like memories,

Too wild and full-blooded

To ever loose themselves

Amongst the rest

/

Forgive me for coming

Back:

I only did because

When I had left you, I promised

I would return,

And you promised 

To wait

/

Yes,

I remember:

‘I promise to return,’ you said,

And I replied that

I would wait for you forever;

The words, the love, the hope

The good intentions…

/

All – wet gunpowder in the stores

Of life;

Small rescue rafts, too light

For real seas;

I prayed for you – you know? – through every day,

Shuddered in fear – you hear? – through every night

While I’ve been waiting –

Yes, I am waiting still

***

The original ‘I Promise’ is here: https://sixthsymph.com/2012/06/27/i-promise/

Count to Nine

Don’t close your eyes – you’ll never wake up,

Don’t drop your head, don’t let your knees bend

Under the weight of what has been done

To you, nor of the guilt for the harm you did;

/

Wait! Do not fall asleep on me now!

There may be something out there that will

Yet touch your heart – perhaps, another wild dream

For which you’ll need your strength, love and grit;

/

Do not let go, although you’re so are tired!

Chase out the ghost of death from your eyes!

I dare you to survive in spite of all,

I know you’re all but gone… Turn around!

/

Fight for yourself, like I know you can!

No, not because you want to but just

Because it is your nature – you must,

Until you’re swallowed by the hungry ground

/

I will not judge when you learn to walk

Again; I will not look when you have to cry,

You know you have been given nine lives:

Nine agonizing births, and nine deaths,

/

So count to nine, and rise one more time

The ‘Difficult’ Person

I’m sure you know one of those people, who, I believe, are commonly called ‘difficult’. They are annoying, are they not? They always have to argue with the leader of the group and unsettle further any fragile balance they may be part of; they are often right but rarely diplomatic; they tend to be moody, demanding and hard to please. All in all, ‘difficult’ people are not the most likeable or pleasant to be around – I would know as I am one of the ‘difficult’ people.

Our group headed out to Teplii Ugol early Tuesday morning, and Mila-the-Shrew (hi :)!) was the first to arrive after five hours of gruelling trekking, involving a gain of 1000 metres in altitude. As ‘zavhoz’, I immediately started working on getting our late lunch ready: fetching water and getting food out of the packs of my peers as they arrived and crashed, exhausted, at the campsite. Soon, the tents were set up and the lunch – ready. As everyone was affected by the rapid altitude gain, nausea prevented the boys, my three team-mates, from eating and they mostly focused on drinking strong black tea with lemon and dried white bread with raisins. The instructor, however, said he wouldn’t eat the ‘mess’ (mushroom soup with noodles) I’d cooked anyway. Then, the boys, perhaps, to support me, all had as much of the ‘mess’ as they could, and even pretended to enjoy themselves. I was grateful to them but seriously displeased with the group leader’s lack of… professionalism, in nothing else.

Everyone went to settle into the tents and get some sleep, while I went down to the little glacial spring to wash the pots and fetch some water for dinner. We would have buckwheat with canned meat, bread with cheese and some cookies for desert. While I was cooking, the boys and the instructor wandered out of their tents and sat around our stone table to chat. The conversation was about our training, and it turned out that the first mountain we were going to climb would not count towards certification for two people in our four-person group: one of the boys and, of course, Mila-the-Shrew, because we had already climbed it by the same route.

Two days before we left for Teplii Ugol, I’d asked the instructor to clarify if it would or would not count towards certification and, if not, I suggested we climb another mountain instead – which is what one of the other Bezengi groups was doing. He told me it would count. Now, by the stone table a day before the scheduled climb, it turned out that count it would not.

‘Why didn’t you tell us?’ the other boy, no less surprised than I, asked the instructor.

‘Because then you wouldn’t come here,’ he replied.

‘But how do we get certified now?’ the boy demanded.

‘Maybe we’ll climb something else after the end of the course or you can go climb something whenever you want,’ was the answer.

‘But aren’t we supposed to get certified at the end of this course?’ I asked, getting a little angry.

‘Are you here for the climbing or the certificate? If you need a certificate, go buy one – you can obviously afford it.’

That phrase right there was it. ‘I thought the course, like a good story, needed a good, solid ending: something to hold on to when all the details of the plot have long since slipped out of one’s memory,’ I said, pondering the possibility of leaving the course.

I didn’t look too happy, and the instructor started mocking me, with the boys looking on, increasingly uncomfortable. Soon, the dinner was ready and the instructor asked that I give him some buckwheat before putting in the canned meat because, as he said, ‘that stuff could give anyone food poisoning’. As he tasted the food, there wasn’t enough salt. The three boys ate quietly (nobody got food-poisoning), and after I’d washed the pots and got more water to make breakfast, we went to our tents to sleep.

This morning I woke up at 6.30 am to make breakfast. We would have porridge with sweet condensed milk and raisins, and for desert – black chocolate. The instructor looked at my porridge with a sour face and said he would only have a couple of spoonfuls of ‘that’.

‘This is terrible,’ said he, so loud the group camped next to us turned to look at him.

The boys ate and had tea. We then started preparing for the ice-climbing class at 8 am on the nearby glacier. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the mood for following any instructions whatsoever from the man, who was going to teach the class. I walked with the group for a bit and said I was turning back. The instructor walked me back to the campsite, shouted at me for a bit and said I wasn’t allowed to return to the main Bezengi camp. Everyone looked at me like I was a crazy person when I said I was leaving anyway. Luckily, a group of climbers was walking down to Bezengi, and they let me join them. Two and a half hours later, I was in my room, deeply disappointed.

The course and my stay in Caucasus are over; I should be leaving any day now. What’s the main lesson I’ve learnt? That I can give at least as much as I demand from others, which is, admittedly, a lot. Unfortunately, in the country where people are being taught to get by on as little as they are graciously given by those who hold the power, being demanding, ambitious and honest are all grounds for immigration. Nevertheless, none of this is really important because the mountains of Kabardino-Balkaria are eternal and beautiful and good, genuine people are many here. It is their rare and precious smiles, the glimmer of the snow and ice in the sun and the sound of the mountain river that I will take with me when I leave.

Expect Nothing – Days 1 & 2

As you might have noticed, my mantra for the past couple of days has been ‘expect nothing’. Well, it doesn’t work for me. I usually expect less than nothing, and this attitude has spared me many a disappointment. I think I will be going back to it after the past two days.

The training finally started. My group seemed nice if apprehensive of me, as usual. We are eight people, everyone from different parts of Russia. I was surprised to hear that one of our group members, Andrew, was form the US; he works in Nalchik. The instructor is a lady from Ukraine. I was named ‘zavhoz’ and placed in charge of caring for the group’s nutrition during longer climbs of 2-3 days. Although I’m a vegan no more, I’m still a vegetarian, so the meat-eating boys have certainly made a mistake when they voted for me to be ‘zavhoz’ :).

After we’d dealt with the organizational side of the course, practice began. We started by reviewing knots and belaying techniques, which I’d forgotten all about. I was never great with ropes, but instead of practicing a forgotten skill, it felt like I was struggling to learn a new one – embarrassing and not a good start. It didn’t help that the instructor and I weren’t getting along too well because I have a tendency to block all information coming from a source I don’t trust.

I was surprisingly tired and disappointed in myself after those first couple of hours. We took a break to have lunch, and then headed up the moraine for an acclimatization hike. It was an exhausting walk uphill and, yet again, my body wasn’t living up to either my own or the group’s standards. Towards the end of the hike we practiced mountain rescue and shared a few laughs. However, on the way back to the camp everyone already knew who the weakest link was going to be for the duration of the course – me.

Day two started with a long hike towards a steep grassy slope with some boulders and scree where we would practice walking on these types of terrain as well as ice-axe use. In my ‘astronaut’ mountaineering boots – La Sportiva Spantik, which are normally used to climb at around 7000 metres – I was clumsy and sloppy with my technique. I wore the Spantik to get used to them as I will be wearing similar boots during the upcoming expedition: they have very thick soles and because of this one cannot ‘feel’ the ground under one’s feet very well. I couldn’t tell you how many times I slipped and fell; angry with the whole world, no less, for my own weakness and many, too many, technical shortcomings.

The training took us about four hours, after which we came back to the camp for a lunch break. The group then decided to take a walk to one of the nearby waterfalls. Although I initially followed, I had to stop halfway up – I was emotionally and physically spent. The ‘magical’ transformation from the strongest and fastest in any group to the slowest and least able in a group of beginners is not easy to deal with. What makes things worse is that I’m completely unable to connect with any of the members of my group, and it is not just my physical weakness, I’m afraid, which pushes people away – it’s my solitariness. One of the key lessons my parents wanted to teach me when I was still a young girl was independence, and in the course of my youth and early adulthood I might have learnt it all too well. Now I am not a team player at all: I trust myself to be my own leader, but not to take anyone else for the inevitably bumpy ride.

These past two days have exposed too much of me to me, and I saw little that I liked. Thus, when I repeat my mantra, ‘expect less than nothing’, I will remember that it’s mostly me that it applies to. We have eight days to go still before the course is over and I am not sure I can make it as I’ll have to face my worst enemy to do so – myself. And if I defeat her, what will I be left with?

The Early Bird

I am falling

Asleep;

Don’t look at me like it’s too early:

My head is heavy on my shoulders

I’m breathing slow,

I’m breathing deep

/

I am crawling

Away;

This house I’ve never had a room in,

Four walls, a couch with tired linen,

Your voice – my quiet,

Endless shame

/

I am leaving

Behind;

The flood of memories is coming

To sweep me off my feet, still running

After the ultimate illusions

Of hope and light

/

Underground

I’m awake

I feel how spring spreads wings above me,

I hear how autumn mourns its summer

And winter is my quiet,

Endless shame