Kathleen Cain

A Tour of the Denver Basin
for Dr. Bob Raynolds

At the brick quarry near Parker, Paleosol rises to the surface.
Ancient soil. Ocher and red. So old, geologists can only explain it
by saying it’s corroded earth.
Potters clamor for it:
What it will be best for?
Cups and plates?
Decorative items?

Miles from its origin, a turquoise pebble the size of a raindrop
has come to rest in Daniels Park. Embedded,
it proves the Earth in ways we must imagine.

Two grains of sand found side by side: quartz crystals.
Like the eye of god, an electron microscope reveals
the sculpting of erosion and millennia. One rounded on
the beach of Time. One squared-off as a marine’s shoulders,
blown straight out of a now-cold volcano in Elbert County.

In Douglas County, a drilling rig pounds out its never-ending
plea for water. We stop to ask; the supervisor answers,
“more than 1,400 feet now.”

Poets and geologists have much in common. Standing level with
that turquoise teardrop, looking east, we can see there was once no basin.
That we could have walked straight east
to Castle Rock across the mountains. Every day, we walk, drive, live—atop
an ancient lake bed. Dig down anywhere, you’ll strike the bones of fish; extinct.

-Kathleen Cain

City Park Lake
for Pat DuBrava

crows out in full force
telling each other riddles
walking with a friend

walking just walking
February wind

just where the lake curves
just there where the wind lessens
the sun on our palms

walking past people with dogs
some of them speak some don’t

geese and ducks chatter

trying to guess their names
shovelers? mallards?

in the middle of the lake
summer fountain frozen too

coming full circle
yet it’s not enough
finding another path

circling the memorial
why can’t they get his face right?

we know Dr. King –
Gandhi Douglass Rosa Parks –
is that Sojourner?

in the light of winter sun
a pine wreath a red ribbon

-Kathleen Cain

Coming Close

I was dumb lucky
that day, though
the warning was
in the air
on the trail above

Stopping to
puzzle over
that tantalizing
aroma: mix of
old molasses

earth and ashes

leaves left a season
under fur

pure brown rot
like that deer
carcass once
in Chautauqua Park

enough to make
my eyes water
my throat itch

chokecherries gone
sour in scat and dried
beneath claw


-Kathleen Cain

Always in a Hurry
for Lalo Delgado

Those last few years, anyway,
each time I saw him, always
in a hurry—jogging—yes, I know
it’s a sight hard to imagine,
over at the Jim Baker Reservoir:

“My wife and the doctor
say I have to keep moving,
so I can’t stop for long . . . “
long enough for a hello and a hug
and some word of poetry.

At the gas station, Hello, Amiga!
Such a surprise—just stopping
for some, what was it? Gum?
Life Savers? And a lottery
ticket, but shhh! Don’t tell
my wife—and a wave to her,
there she is, waiting for me
in the car—again a quick hug
and a word of poetry. Where
are you reading? Maybe I’ll come
hear you. Hail and farewell!
Like this for the last few years,
always in a hurry. Yet always time
for a hug and that word of poetry.
When I read that he had died and
was already buried, I felt stabbed
in the heart and deprived of
the love he shared with the world—
with cariňo, he said, in whatever you do,
always with cariňo,
and then he showed us
how to do it, but not without
that smart-ass way of his
holding the world up
by its underpants to show off
the spots. Adding to the catalog

of original sins, grown even
longer since he left. Meaner.
Stronger in some quarters.
And they all have capital letters
now. How that would make him
howl. Yet you can pick up
any one of his poems—and
sadly, though truly, they still apply.
In poetry, he has left us a manual
for just and decent living. In a hurry,
my friend. Always in a hurry.
Hello—and goodbye.

-Kathleen Cain

Crossing on Highway 287, that June

The road to Brighton turns north and cuts through
summer fields of cabbages and corn, green
beans before it snakes back east toward
town to the courthouse. This time of morning

you can tell where the river moves beneath
white air rising, the water’s breath
and dreaming. Dark-skinned men already

at work in the fields, tending somebody else’s
crops. I’d like to stop and get out and stay here
for awhile, bend my back to a day’s work

and at the end of it, walk down to the river.
Sit and listen. But my task lies at the end
of Bridge Street, to sit, mute
in the courtroom, amid the flood
of lawyers’ words that swirl around
the death of my boy—words that will
sweep me away, let me drown
in the dark eye of the killer.

Each day, as I hold to the road below
the heron appears, crossing above me.
Five days running the heron appears
ferrying hope on her great blue back.
Her wings beat away fear. Her golden eye
sees into all dark corners, all dark eyes.

Five mornings we meet and cross
on the Brighton Road—she moving from
darkness into light, I from light into darkness.

We each turn back at the end of the day
and when I look into the killer’s face
how I stare
with a golden animal eye.

— Kathleen Cain

Lowell Crossing

Lowell Boulevard ventures north, crosses 52nd Ave., over the border of Denver proper, into (still) unincorporated Adams County (somewhat improper). Whatever
toxic or
is happening in Colorado
is happening in demographically traceable points
in Adams County. Walk softly there
and carry 9-1-1 on your speed-dial. Although

you no longer need to pay the ferryman
to cross Clear Creek, slow down
over RR tracks, ignore tailgaters
where the road divides:
refitted gravel pits, into Jim Baker Reservoir
on the west, from the private lake and gated community
still known as Aloha Beach on the east
an old high spot
for low rollers

So park somewhere. Stop and get out. Walk Lowell from Clear Creek
to 64th. It might not work the first time, but keep trying.
You have to earn the permissions of these places.
Give your feet plenty of time to learn, beneath pavement,
the unhurried pace of steps pressed into clay, summer travel
beneath foothills of Ute

following the game up trail now pavement
north then west
to the Flat Irons.

Keep the mountains
on your left hand. Look up only
when the weather changes, or the road
veers away from water. Keep going.

— Kathleen Cain

St. Francis Without Hands

The nuns gave up replacing the broken hands of Francis on his corner, set to face Federal from 52nd Avenue, years ago. Such an easy target as the gangs roamed north and west. No sense of humor in the vandalism. Not just a cigarette left dangling between the fingers. Or a beer can raised to the lips.

But who would amputate the hands of such sweetness? Take vengeance on this patient man, once an old twelfth-century homie himself?

Then again, St. Frank, does he really need hands? Will his blessings fail because he can’t throw the sign of the cross with flair? Wouldn’t he share bread with you anyway, using only his stumps? Would the rap of his canticles fall less fervently from his lips because he cannot point to Brother Sun and Sister Moon?

I mean, seriously, dude, do you feel safer now? And what makes you think power’s only in the hands? This guy tamed a wolf with words. Talked to snakes. Better be careful. He might come for you next.

— Kathleen Cain

Acknowledgments: “A Tour of Denver Basin” first appeared in the September 27, 2017 issue of the Colorado Independent News.

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