Early March in Denver
I am not ready for balmy gusts,
chartreuse of new iris leaves
and deeper green of spinach.
This afternoon a wasp landed
on my son’s earlobe as we sat
short sleeved on the porch.
I am not ready for this warmth.
I have not had enough of winter—
the long dark and the cold,
the struggle, the ache,
this curled and hunkered longing.
– Bob Jaeger
Leaving Fruita, Driving to Denver
There is a certain slant of morning light
Tall through the bow window
That sets the shadowed room aglow,
Paints lace curtains shimmering on the wall,
And the red dog in the yellow chair
Burns bright, a godly dog on a throne of light.
The red canyons I long to walk
Become more than red, more than canyons—
Gateways to each infinitely ordinary moment,
Awaiting only the simplest of incantations
To pass through those portals and transform,
Become in one red instant other than this rubble
Of anticipation, of errant desire, of fear
We find no longer useful yet drag behind
Hitched like some impossible caravan.
These canyons are neither the walls
Enclosing the gap, nor the blue bright gap itself,
But a radiance conceived in the heart of the sun
And born just now upon red rock, red dog,
Hands youthful again in this sanguine light.
As I rise resigned to time and distance,
Passing clouds transform the lace
To mourning veils, then shrouds.
Shadows crouch behind dark corners of things
Deep in the room, coiling just at edges of eyes.
Then all the mundane world crowds back,
Lace becomes after all just curtains,
Dog just a dog in a Naugahyde chair.
The canyons are gray now and flat
As I begin the long drive back.
But after hours of empty wind and whine of tires
Driving this road between necessity and dream,
Just before sunset a moment of brilliance
The sudden red of blood meeting air
Sings again in this heart where hope echoes.
Then day clots darkly on ancient red stone.
Last shadows fall with the fast falling light
Till I lay me down silent in the long arms of night.
— Bob Jaeger
We Rode Out
From new driveways we rode out early, away from the houses and naked yards
still humped up from construction. On fat-tired bikes we rode out of that town
soon to become unknown to us a city, the world before us,
tops of brown lunch bags gripped around handlebars,
canteens and hearts banging,
leaning into the wind of that long coast down the valley to Bear Creek.
Leaving the pavement we slowed, found the rutted track,
flour-fine clay dust and sweat streaking our faces.
In sudden stillness, in the willows, we hid our bikes, and, knowing we shouldn’t,
crawled under barbed wire at the low place we always crossed.
We waded, hunted frogs, climbed towering cottonwoods far from mothers’ eyes.
Then one day we turn a different way.
Resisting the cool suck and pull of the river,
we hiked into the sun around the shoulder of a dry bluff,
tennis-shoe careful of prickly pear and yucca, and we found,
hidden by juniper just under the crest, a shallow cave beneath a sandstone ledge
and a statue of a beautiful woman, her milk-white feet
just then illuminated by the climbing sun.
Arms outstretched, head tilted slightly beneath a fold of her blue-edged robe,
she smiled down at us where we stood in dusty silence,
suddenly shy of each other.
We returned often that and other summers, wading barebacked in cool shallows,
dreaming rafts on which we would give ourselves to the river, unspoken hints
of other dreams stirring in our blood, and we always returned to that place
to sit at her feet surrounded by candles brought by others,
though we never met another there looking out over the river,
our eyes following the low, dry hills and up to farther green and, farther still,
the high country and snow and wind and sky.
Then a summer came that saw a new highway pushed through the valley.
Houses crept inexorably down that ecstatic slope to the river,
and lawns appeared, and parks, and a shopping center,
and the place of our long dreaming filled with these things.
The town became city, and we, riding out on the edge of other worlds,
Remembered that secret place, but didn’t go there anymore.
Years later, after a week alone in mountains,
driving back into the heat and the rush,
I glanced at just the right moment toward the top of a dusty bluff and glimpsed
a shallow cave beneath the crest. I swerved off the highway to the shoulder,
got out of the car to take a longer look, to be certain of the place.
With the traffic speeding past and the hot wind of it pulling at my clothes,
I shaded my eyes and squinted up the dry slope
remembering that time on the uneasy edge of childhood,
we wild boys within whom even the religion of our parents had not taken root,
that secret place we knew wider and deeper than secret.
Over the next months every time I drove that road I looked.
The juniper were gone, and the candles,
and she had long since departed,
though signs of other intention began to appear:
a fire ring, scattered ashes, paper and cans, and motorcycle trails
girdling the bluff like beetle tracks around a dying pine;
cans and broken glass piled up glancing shards of light to the highway,
and spray paint crawled stark as maggots on sandstone.
Every chance I had I drove that way. Always looked; could not look away.
And now the earth movers arrive to begin this latest
though not final transformation,
cutting and pushing hillside into flat planes more accessible to purpose.
Concrete flows, set in milk-white curves just so,
and fences guard bright rows of new storage units
we may rent when our lives become too full.
The ancient sandstone, the prickly pear and yucca,
the bluff and the grotto where she stood,
are buried in the heart of this new hill.
And still we ride out
looking to dusty hills and green hills and sky, always looking out,
in all rivers crossed hoping for that river, in all the outstretched arms,
in every face, searching for some hint of that welcoming light,
aching for a glimpse of that smile, the boundary between memory and longing
more difficult than any barbed wire.
— Bob Jaeger
Music Dreamed Between Granby and Walden
Alone under tattered canvass smelling
Of motor oil and fish and wood smoke,
The boy peered from the bed of the truck
Into the black blur of forest, snow, stars,
The moonstruck road unwinding behind.
When his face grew numb he pulled
The canvass tight and closed his eyes,
And the whistle of wind and long om of tires
Became melody, then harmony, then song,
A radiant choir singing grace in
Words he knew but did not understand,
And all he ever wanted was in that music,
And all he wanted was to go there and stay
In the light and song and be that music.
But some change in the road or rhythm of gears
Pulled him back, and though he shut tight
His eyes and wished as he had never before,
The choir faded and became again
Familiar humdrum of tires and wind.
The truck stopped and he climbed down.
Whatever it was he had heard was gone.
The boy said nothing to the men
Because he could not then,
And he cannot now explain,
And only the ache of a memory of music
He cannot hear remains.
— Bob Jaeger
I Always Thought the Rabbits Were the Goal
The earth is hard with ice, and frosted beards of grass
bend together like old men at prayer. I squint against
the brittle light, wipe my eyes behind the glasses,
and see the boy on another frozen morning,
eyes watering in the bitter wind, struggling with
Father through the whispering stalks.
We rose long before the sun, drove the starlit prairie
pushed by wind and snow, the only voices on the radio,
ate pancakes in a café hunkered down on Colorado plains
as winter sun slices cold earth, the café gloomy now
as whispering farmers unbend from their coffee
and we rise to our task, struggling across frozen farmland
preceded by our breath, toes and fingers numb,
hunting rabbits in the corn stubble.
We bring them home in Father’s canvass hunting coat.
He skins them in the basement under a dim and wavering light,
on the floor on yesterday’s news surrounded by potatoes, flour,
coffee, canned peaches. I watch as he tears flesh from muscle,
pulls out bits of shot, the dark and hidden parts of rabbit still warm.
My mother bakes them, and we eat the stringy meat
sharp with the sage they had eaten, careful of the shot
Father had not found with his plumber’s fingers.
But just now, standing in this frozen grass stung by memory
and the wind striding tall among the whispering beards,
rising, sighing away eastward, fingers and toes grow numb,
and I wipe my eyes behind the glasses because it is cold,
and I always thought the rabbits were the goal.
— Bob Jaeger