Sleeping with Yaks

by Heather Swan Issue: Spring 2018
After climbing through rhododendron
forests, over dizzying gorges on bridges
made of rope, through villages where women
made paper out of bark beside the Himalayan
ice-melt, past tiny stone stupas and
countless fluttering prayer flags to where
the snow began and trees no longer grew,
I came, at dusk, to a two-room house.
A family of sherpas ushered me inside,
handed me a bowl of boiled potatoes
and a cup of hot butter tea, then invited me
to stay the night. And after sitting
in the orange glow of fire, my body
melting into the quiet, the woman led me
to an adjacent room where the family
kept their yaks—a room not much larger
than their two enormous bodies—
and she shook out a mat on the floor
near their heads, which were easily as wide
as my chest. A pompom made of yarn the red
of valentines adorned each of their ears.
The woman and I bowed goodnight
to each other, and I was left alone
with the yaks. We measured each other
with our eyes. I blinked mine slowly
in a kind deference and waited for them
to blink back, then folded myself down
into the narrow space between their faces
and the wall, and rolled out my blanket
under their whiskery chins. All night,
as the cold mountain shifted under the stars,
they held me in the warm halo
of their sweet, even breath. By morning,
I understood reverence.

Heather Swan


Heather Swan's poetry has appeared in journals such as Phoebe, Poet Lore, The Raleigh Review, Midwestern Gothic, Basalt, About Place, The Cream City Review, and others. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in places such as Aeon, ISLE, Resilience, and Edge Effects. Her book, Where Honeybees Thrive: Stories from the Field was published by Penn State Press in the fall of 2017. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.