Original poem reprinted online here: "Base Camp" by Tom Healy
Originally read: February 26, 2013
More information about the Poet: Tom Healy
Rereading this poem, I wonder who the "we" is referring to. Yes, another focus on the ambiguous pronoun because the importance of the other shifts throughout the poem. And yes, this poem is from Poet's.org where the poet talks about something in the poem. I read it. Some things make sense, but doesn't change my interpretation of the poem.
I interpret this poem through the technique introduced in the beginning -- very short lines that break up a sentence; yet, the context for the short lines is in the first line "How much oxygen" where the focus is to interpret each line as a breath -- trying to say something important through fragments and leads to a sense of speed and multiple interpretations.
The first rhetorical.uses an either/or strategy where the stronger of the two options will tend to over take the poem. I think this line "a one-word lie" carries the most weight between the options. So in the poem I look for how the speaker utilizes the concept of the "one-word lie" further in the poem, and also what is the "one-word lie." Also the short lines brings a sense of urgency, at least for me, to find the answer.
But the speaker is not in such a hurry, rather there's the shift of subject to a broader topic of existence (existentialist thought happens mostly on mountains) of animals in this area. And the speaker tries to describe the environment in the most broad terms, then giving up with "whatever." This leads to the backtrack to the idea.
"Us" (compared to existing animals). I think this word is the one-word lie, or at least applies to this word. The constant figuring out of "us" because of the next stanza with this line, "is always in doubt." So there's the sense of the outward going in -- how the speaker is internalizing and redefining the definition of "us" because there isn't the other perspective. And even though there is no "I" in the poem, the "us" indicates a first person perspective...I think...that was first person. "We" definitely does though.
So from the bottom of the fourth stanza, "Why? Why bother? / Because what is there?" The rhetorical questions go internal asking the speaker why? Sounds like an end of a relationship. Then there's the either/or gambit in the fifth stanza with the idea of "us" in mind "strong or broken" (the most sentimental line in the poem -- or if the poem kept going much further, it could've been more sentimental" with the emphasis on broken.
And in the end there's an image of danger and the after effects, "of sudden stroms, weak / foorholds, frostbite, crevasse, / and black and blue terrain." The images are a bit hyperbolic, but the images reaffirms where the emphasis of the poem would be through the either/or gambit. Yeah, I'm going to coin "either/or gambit."
Also, I read this poem multiple times, so it's not much a gambit if I know how it's going to end.