Anyone who’s ever been misled by a description of a hike should appreciate this week’s poem. The speaker pokes fun at himself, at language, and at aging.

David Sloan teaches at Maine Coast Waldorf High School in Freeport. His debut poetry collection, “The Irresistible In-Between,” was published by Deerbrook Editions in 2013, and his poems have twice won Maine Literary Awards.

A Moderate Hike

By David Sloan

That day we climbed Kineo, the girl

handing out maps behind the counter

said it was only a “moderate” hike.

How that word nettled as we labored

up the trail, over python roots and rock clutter,

you with your bad hip, I with my syncopated

heart. “Moderate,” I huffed, keeled over

a dizzying edge. You asked


—How’s your ticker, dear?

—Oh, hammering moderately,

somewhere between hummingbird

and snare drum. And you?

—Just a moderate limp, love, like dragging

a bag of bricks.


Most couples our age would have lingered

on benches lining Moosehead’s south shore,

content to lick up rivulets

of mocha chip and take snapshots.

But you wanted to scale Kineo’s cliffs.

So we climbed.


The summit was cruel, not congratulatory,

tree-choked and viewless, unless we mounted,

for good measure, a rusting fire tower.

Ninety-six more mincing steps—

moderate panic—over open-air grates

and rickety railings.


Back at the inn, we soaked in a bath,

rubbed arnica into each other’s sore

places. We laughed in bed at our whining,

then again at the irony of another word—

sexagenarian—so promising,

so misleading.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is poet who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 David Sloan. It appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to

filed under: