Crossing the High Sierra

Annie and I cross the High Sierras on foot,
the way Fremont did all those years ago.
We have his grit, but resolve never to kill

any prisoner taken in battle,
never to dispatch captives as the price
of our ambition even if we have no room.

Annie is more interested in drawing wildflowers
than making war anyway. She captures the emotion
of this place in high summer,

the way it makes you turn inward,
the way you get that church feeling,
the one you always wished you’d found in mass

when the priest would swing his mitre of incense
but you never did, and that was the reason
you knew you had to leave it behind.

In the evening, as the light is coming down,
we look across the valley and spot Fremont’s ghost
crossing again for new territory and treasure.

We decide right there that if we take prisoners
in battle, we will treat them with dignity, even love.
We will give every enlisted man

the privileges others save only for officers.
Their letters back to their wives and children
will be full of hope. They will resolve to fight no more.

John Brantingham's work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has seven books of poetry and fiction, and he teaches poetry and fiction at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and Mt. San Antonio College.