The Frozen Cathedral

Photo Credit: Ross Fowler (Flickr)

By Darryl Scott

I came for baptism,
Sacred rebirth.
Kneeling before the altar
Of Denali:
The Wind, sheer, stark,
Its caress the breath
Of Death, resonating,
Within my body, mind,
Was the dread toll
Of my sinner`s heart;
Beckoning, booming,
It bade me enter
To embrace the baring
Of body and soul, love and
By the piercing scrutiny
Of ice.

I let it take me,
Frore consummation
Keen in its encompassment;
It led me to the heart
Of darkness:
My heart, frozen over,
In the pain of loss,
It led me here
In the hopes of
Finding a match.
I came to scale
Denali`s glacial façade,
A final memorandum
To my cherished progeny.

I climbed,
My eyes
Hearkening to the apse,
Where the summit
Kissed the fringes
Of heaven,
A shining rose window
The halo of suffering`s
Boreal monolith,
The light in the midst
Of darkness
I clawed at it
Seemingly unreachable,
In its unearthly detachment.

I climbed,
Blinded by
The stinging, crystalline
Flurry, swirling,
As the memories of
My mind:
One ill-starred grasp,
And cut off
Was my bloodline,
Prey to the caprice
Of his own will.
I climbed,
In the snare of
The past`s agonies,
And the sheer chill
Of now`s struggles,
A turmoil of love and life
To drive away pain,
Cast it off in a
Crucible of ice.

I climbed,
Each prick of cold
Now a new memory
Of joyous happenstance,
Boundless in its minute
Infinities, glittering as the
Shimmering sheen of ice.

I climbed,
Free! Light
As the Snowflake`s waltz
In the frenzy of suffering`s
Chaos, it was the holy water
That cleansed the soul.
The pinnacle of the Koyukon,
Was now the harbinger
Of my salvation.
The storm threatened
To mire my soul,
Envelop me.
I pushed it back,
Blazing in defiance,
Soul smoldering in radiance
As each new height
Was one closer
To transcendence.

I climbed,
`Till I stood
Before the apse,
In triumph,
Frozen tears
Burning hot in
The light of release.
At the edge of the world,
Where Denali`s summit
Kissed the fringes of heaven,
I was closest
To my son.

-Inspired by John Mackey`s The Frozen Cathedral

Author`s note:

Explicitly, this poem, and the song that serves as its inspiration, is about a mountain: Denali, named by the Koyukon, the natives of Alaska. The name translates to “the great one”. It stands at more than twenty thousand feet above sea level, a towering mass over the Alaskan wilderness. However, a description by itself is pointless. A piece written in such literal terms carries no power, imparts no lasting impression upon a reader. John Mackey understood this. His piece for wind ensemble, The Frozen Cathedral, encapsulated not just the sheer beauty of the monument itself, but his experience with the mountain. Mackey`s son, an avid mountain climber, lost his life scaling this mountain. At first, Denali was, to him, synonymous to pain, loss. He decided to face his pain, to scale the mountain as a tribute to his late son. He described the experience as ethereal, a baptism that cleansed his soul. It was his pilgrimage: “A great mountain is like a church. I called it the frozen cathedral”. My goal was to show Denali as Mackey saw it, imagery seen through the lens of emotion, metaphor. I gave my description symbolic resonance, made the mountain into a metaphor for transcending grief. Religious dialect, cathedral terminology, all helped instill a sense that this sublime place is, to Mackey, holy. He came for baptism.

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