An Arête

by Paul Hooker

is a knife-like ridge at the mountain’s crest, slicing
the atmosphere; clouds teeter at the precipice
before plunging—which way?—down
slopes past boulders bleeding out
into deep brown gullies on
the desert floor: either
before or afterward
east- or westward
hope-ward or
to despair.

is creation’s monument to its own excellence.
At its apogee earth sublimates into sky.
In this rarefied realm there are
only ends, not middles,
truth and falsehood
right and wrong
good and evil
yes and

But stand beneath the ridge and watch
the cost of absolutes chip away at
the arete’s fragile, faultless edge.
Sharp perfection refuses any
hint of negotiation with
rain and storm. So
the rock, friable,

to come to rest in
wadis where torrents
buck and boil and bear,
grain by grain, excellence’s
final testament away, toil and
tumble until virtue, purity are at last
washed away, and rock and water come
to terms of compromise in the maybe of mud.

Note: The word “arête,” is derived through old French from the Latin arista,”ear,” and which, in the Middle Ages, described the jagged backbone of a fish. The same letters arranged in the same order denote the Greek philosophical notion of nobility, moral virtue, and excellence.