Yukon 1897: Price of Gold [after Jack London]


His breath a blear of warmth across the vast white
stilled unreal snowfields—
through the feral silence—on the webs
of snowshoes, the old prospector shuffles
heading North.
His lean and faithful dog trots on beside him.

The old man dreams of glory-holes of gold—
dreams the sharp cold gaudy heat
of nuggets—drags his aging breath across
these frozen wastes men
civilize by greed—across this blank and zero world
of cold.
He hikes through frozen air
as though through solid ice.

Too late, on ice, he knows of his mistake—
across a buried lake he feels the crack and craze
of webbed uncertainness beneath him—
and sinking through receives a shock
that squeezes out his breath.

Fingers numb, he kneels and prays
for flame (learns, warmth is real
as riches that he’d looked for).
But yellow nugget-bursts of matches break and fly
and sputter out—
his body fading out,
the sharp cold
presses in.

Beneath the frozen sky
the old man sinks into a snowdrift;
in total cold feels somehow warm.
In soft snow dreams gaudily…
A spider with a body like a nugget
spins his breath like threads
—his vision blurs
and webs
with longings…

In stark, cold air, the stark primeval dog
sniffs briefly at the scents of missing life.


John Briggs

*[ WSB ].