Marianne Boruch

Woman conentrating at a wood table writes with a pen on white unlined paper on a clipboard
Marianne Boruch at work in the Toklat Cabin

NPS Photo by Emily Brouwer



--for David

You Bach yourself or Schubert yourself,

light outside in the cabin dark, 11 pm, Denali

at treeline, the grizzlies still awake

finding berry unto berry, getting larger

for their trouble, enough to

doze all winter. But it’s August! And you

Mozart yourself, our bed a concert hall

of one, that wire in your ear to

in time out of time as the moon—is there really

a moon this semi-night?—bestows itself

over mountain and tundra.

Bestows! Old word

growing older that finds us later

and late, dear listener

of worlds above river stream

and gravel bar, caribou to hare to crow,

the dot and dash of sheep up there, some

arctic squirrel curious, a miniature

time stop, little sentry of the Park Road

reeling up, back--wind

and scent and wolf. This dream to

keep hearing, hour unto hour

sleep, our simple shared

ageless, about to.



-- Denali National Park, Alaska, August 2015

Early everything: cloud, rim of light

around cloud. You open,

you reinvent the scheme of

room and table. This cup of tea equals---

Patience is a word with

a window in it.

Or abrupt: I am not worthy the photographer

chanted yesterday to be funny,

opening his arms wide

at the turn-off near Stony Hill. Which is how

we strangers to each and all stood

longer in the vast cliff brown green blue--

no joke, no words for it.

* * *

Fireweed chronically alert

outside cabin #29 above the Toklat river.

Before names, before McKinley or Denali, either-or

this fireweed so sure of itself,

wily post-us, pre we-named-this-plant

because I’m loyal. No matter. Fire or ice, I come up

however earth is scorched.

To believe in one many-paned window

is to love the obvious

involved: cloud and sky all upper glass

looming how far

far is. Of earth and close,

the lower half mobbed by that fireweed.

Tiny flames, high stems.

Pull back and in. The cabin’s rusted can

of pencils on the sill, erasers worn down by

second thoughts. Someone here first. No, everyone

here first! A candle, an old book about wolves

bears, sheep, lynx--

The nerve: do I think I’m actually

doing something? Between

our little and the large?

* * *

Vague ringing in the ear these mornings

makes a kind of silence. Late summer.

Spruce letting in blue

through its spikes. To be here, to stall speechless

at what mountains do

and keep doing--is it the human part that sees

or the cheap auto-brief-buzz

camera part? Simple words again: tree,

gravel bar. Look up--

amazing! Yeah. Like a caption is needed.

What I really want? Not the physics of

eye and brain taking in light to

make color, not behaved

in some frame. A hunger so old

and split-second lunge, so

time-rich, time-starved, wooly


The grizzly rears back, massive head going left

then right. So the Ranger mimes

to warn big, a cartoon of bear

bent over us, closer, his

scent-roar Moose? Caribou? What is that--

Worse. My face and my fear, my two arms

in a down vest.

* * *

The higher the flowering on fireweed, the sooner

winter shows up. This plant

tells time! Three people said that.

I do see a quickening. Every few days

another hour of light

shot, the flower shedding beauty and adding

beauty, low shutter speed up the stem.

The heart sinks into its permafrost.

* * *

Okay. A common enough story--

Day six. Two bears stop our hike until

a safer place down the Park Road

to enter and go up past lichen and moss, past

the spare yellow work of flowers.

Climb and climb, off-balance scary particulars,

narrow ledge and stones,

my boots and sticks where caribou leave closed

parentheses in mud, the spot

one of them tracked, stood and straight up

turned: sudden

Denali in snowy splendor.

Nothing ironic, this

too big a dream. Rain at night

urgents into day.

Drops of clear vision on fireweed, tip

of spruce and willow, on the rope’s

knot out there--

Window for a reason, inside

where I write human enough, in two shirts,

a wool sweater.

* * *

Always a map of this world, and emphatic

somethings on a sign. It’s the raven

sleek-ragged flapping there, folding down to

scold at the Toklat Station,

his cranky eloquent you, how dare you, yes

you and you….

We’re just so beside the point, right?

Only is is is

to walk and to breathe.

The boots I think waterproof

aren’t. But we hike the tundra anyway, soggy

each next and next gives way to

the underworld, tangled

low willow, what a god-forsaken

maze to get through. All of it farther,

the Ranger saying see that ridge?

(stanza break)

Miles, and rain turns snow.

Wet into old

isn’t long. Berries. Roots. Twigs. The bear

beyond us or

so like us, making ready for that

dank underground, crazy now, raking

everything into his mouth.

Later, what in me

keeps waking? Same rain

the small hours--let go, let go--

off overhang and roof.

Expand. I mean stop.

You step in tundra and it might

recall something. The brain takes the imprint

danger, the drastics

the way snow remembers night’s

freeze on the mountain even at noon.

First news I heard at Denali: a photographer

snapping and snapping too close.

Proof: his flannel shirt in that bear, indigestible

woven blue and black bolus. And they

did with it—what? In a jar? On a shelf? Some

dusty afternoon? The things

that keep me awake.

* * *

Fireweed, your blossoms are red paper

shards of blossom. I count

six, seven—would that be weeks until winter?

A clock ticking, here where

there is no clock. Early to ancient

undoing year whatever this is.

A branch. In wind.

Dark as rain can ink it—

Portrait of writer Marianne Boruch
Marianne Boruch
Marianne Boruch, of West Lafayette, IN, is a poet whose eight collections include the recent Cadaver, Speak and The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press, 2014, 2011). She's also written two essay collections about poetry, and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler (Indiana, 2011). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, London Review of Books, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She's been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and artist residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center (Italy) and at Isle Royale National Park. Boruch was a Fulbright/Visiting Professor in 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland though usually she teaches in Purdue University's MFA program which she established in 1987. Much of her work concerns the natural world, especially her Kinsgley-Tufts award winning The Book of Hours, the fierce and mysterious nature of that world and our troubling human place in it.

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Last updated: March 29, 2017

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