O'er the cobblestones I trip,
Pick and shovel in my grip.
Gold pan tied onto my pack
Hanging from its straps in back.
Water flowing 'round my knees
Makes me wonder whether these
Mountain streams so icy cold
Lead me not to nuggets gold.
"Wind that whistles in the pines,
Do you also sigh through mines
That prospectors early found
In this cold, unyielding ground?"
It gets colder with each tick
Of my watch. My mind is thick.
Can't think straight. Can't even speak.
Eyebrows icy. Reddened cheek.
Toss my pack into the snows
On the bank where ice still shows.
Grabbing pick in ice-rimmed mitts,
Pound the ice-packed sand to bits.
Breath has frozen to my beard--
Crystal ripples neatly tiered.
Cannot stop to warm my face.
Have to keep up this damned pace.
Must do so to keep my soul
From tumbling into this dark hole
Widening before me and
Giving up its cold hard sand.
Shov'ling out the rock and grit
From deep inside this dark'ning pit,
Causes me to wonder why
I keep on 'neath leaden sky.
From the bottom of my "well;"
Shovel out what's close to hell
Sling it in my pan of steel
Lying close beside my heel.
Now I squat on heels in snow;
Dip my pan in icy flow--
Inundating sand and grit
Shoveled from my sample pit.
Back and forth I shake the pan,
Stratifying all I can.
Dip and swirl and swirl and pour;
Back and forth and all twice more.
Now the concentrates are black.
Swirl some water front to back.
There! The colors now show through!
Then some more! Then quite a few!
I forget my frosty nose,
Icy fingers, frozen toes!
Close my eyes to cold and wet.
Who knows? I might be rich yet!
From these frozen, icy streams
Will I fill my wildest dreams?
Then the dreams burst in my head.
I come awake. I'm still in bed.
~Dick Oakes, The Old Prospector
12 April 2004