Photo (detail) by Cassandra Lewis. Click for full image.
Thérese Halscheid
The Yukon Quest

. . . for Greg Parvin

What was it like when the sled spun on a river frozen
enough to create a deceptive sheen,

that moment, when his body lifted in wind, sled and all,
while the huskies were held in mid-air

before falling to the watery surface
only to wipe out once more on the overflow.

What was it like after the whirling ended, when his body quieted,
the pack too, when the world came back to their eyes

and they saw land again as it first seemed, everything the same,
such vast areas of white

they sped in the wrong direction. With snow blown
over the musher’s tracks, they lost their way

and could do nothing, had lost their way
braving the barrenness.

Imagine the shock at sighting their previous camp
and the sharp turns that occurred to set off once more

just as the moon rose over the mountains, racing once more,
riding the long road, the smooth long road of the moon;

of his growing concern after the food ran out for the pack
when the dogs refused to go on

and bedded down in small nests of snow and lay there and there
were fierce winds, the lost feeling in his fingers.

Imagine his eyes smarting as the sun fully returned
when he trudged to a distant tree

broke a few branches only to find them green—
the hours which followed when his sweat froze

and he shivered and thought of the dogs surrounded by stillness
everything whitened as with mists in a dream.

Think of the power needed to deny his own urge to sleep
to stay obedient to his course walking the hills for dry wood

until an abandoned miner’s camp came into view
where he stacked some wood in his arms

before starting back to the dogs, knowing he would lose the race
but had just won something far more important.

Picture then, after crossing his own finish line,
when he began a fire, poked a branch in a drift to hang his clothes to dry

that he stood before the great flickering flame, bare-chested in forty below
with nothing around for miles, only the dogs and himself.

There, he raised his hands quietly
in thanks, knowing it was enough

to watch how the moon moved slowly over them
the old moon, so silvery, that round and silvery moon in the arctic sky.