Poem: Chomolungma

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Only half an hour earlier
George had placed her picture on the summit,
as promised, then posed for the photograph,
the proof that they had made it,
exhausted, breathless,
though more overcome by the view,
that vast panorama, daunting and deadly.
Sandy had been certain he saw in George
the same chilling sense he felt, that this was
no place for Man.

It had caught up with them, quickly,
while they began the long descent.
George must have slipped.
Sandy had tried to hold the rope, to get some grip,
but his friend was gone before he knew it.
Even all those years rowing at Merton
didn’t give him the strength to hold on, for long,
the kinetic weight tearing at his muscles.
He crashed onto the slope and slid
until a rock severed his speed,
his chance of survival.
Fate had deemed this gully of shadows
was to be his grave.
The pain, though intense, was eased by
the creeping cold through his torn clothes.
Hadn’t George told him, be mindful
on the descent, of its dangers?
Only last night they’d talked
about Edward Whimper, conqueror
of the Matterhorn, how tragedy
struck on that other treacherous face.
But Sandy knew it was tales like these
that first fired up George, made him
into the man he was.

He thought of George’s wife, Ruth,
apologising to her for their predicament,
his broken body and his dwindling life,
the fact that he couldn’t make out her husband
anywhere in that eerie, receding light.
At least there was time to collect his thoughts,
acquaint himself with the Mother of the World,
as the Sherpas knew this place.
Sandy heard it said that they believed to die
peacefully, mindfully, was a good thing.
He asked that Chomolungma might bless
his migrating soul.

In memory of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine, who died on Mt. Everest, June 1924. Here I speculate what might have happened.

copyright Francis Barker 2019

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