On this rocky alpine climb, snow
already clots on green grasses.
Late blooms freeze-dried overnight.
Ahead of a storm hunkered along
the Great Divide, snow sifts down
from still-blue sky, melting in sun-
light. Too warm to ski and too cold
to hike, I hike anyway. The tundra’s
gone orange and gold, and higher yet,
I wonder if it was ever summer here.
An older guy rests on a steep stretch,
having urged his daughter ahead.
“I’m not gonna make it,” he confides.
“When you reach the top will you tell her
I’ll be waiting here?” When I find
the daughter gazing at sawtooth peaks
doubled in glacial lake, she sighs.
“It just kills me that he can’t see this
any more, reach these heights with me
now. He’s the one who cheered me up
the ridgetops, who taught me to love
the world.” Alone in the chill of her regret,
I face the stone escarpment, wispy snow
sticking to its shadows, wondering why
conical rock piles evoke the sublime, why
barren extravagance makes us love a world
that doesn’t love us back. Heading down,
I spy the daughter helping her father back
to his feet. Her arms steady his waist–
his arm enfolds her shoulder. Together,
they hobble across the scree. I’m glad
to see the first stunted tree, signpost
of the deceit that earth is our mother,
soothing us in green, and not our defeated
father, forsaking his place at the top,
surrendering all its loveless beauty.
This sky seems to write no promises–
its gray sheet stretches taut, papering
over the sun. Turkey gravy and pie juice
bleed on my clients’ blotted-ink addresses,
but I know ‘em by heart. The streets deliver me
again, with meals for the homebound.
Opposite Freedom Park’s drained fountain
an old lady totters to her next meal in robe
and sneakers. Every other citizen braving this
chill seems to be on crutches or skinny wheels:
“Could you hold that door for me, Sonny?”
In her room near the emergency exits,
Judith cries at the offered goods–enough
for the long weekend, with pie and cake
besides–and I beg off her gratitude,
I who only brought and did not buy,
did not package, did not bake.
Through his door-chain’s widening wedge,
Mr. Gomez forgets his reserve and shinnies up
the IV of his dormant self-delight, then frees
the door and offers his arms to me.
At the icy crack of noon, feeble shafts
of sunlight tender a greeting to the street,
throwing the chimneys’ steam into blunt relief
against faint blue haze.
Life, I want to tell Judith, has kissed me
on my sweet ass for so many years
that I’ve forgotten the need for wishes on bones
and lost track of any promises, kept or broken,
scrawled in disappearing ink
across November skies.
— Lee Patton
WILD IN THE CITY
Alone, in bikini, with her breakfast martini,
her telescope trained on the topmost summit,
Lisa’s sure she’s spotted a dead bighorn sheep.
Miraculous, from Rangeview Towers’ topmost terrace,
to see its fur flying, as if defying all lifelessness.
She rehearses what she’ll tell Robert tonight:
“Its coat caught the wind…as if syncopated somehow…
with plumes of blown snow.” No matter
how much bare skin she sprawls toward the sun,
a polar chill rises inside her. It’s October.
Outfield at the country day school, Maggie’s the last
to abandon kickball, last to hear the cry, “Antelope!”
She hustles to the wire-mesh fence the officers
just unrolled to contain this wayward, wild herd
of pronghorns trapped between the school, golf course,
and Colorado Boulevard. “They don’t want the cars
to kill ‘em,” some kid explains, as Maggie leans
into mesh to catch the mother antelope’s eyes.
How much they look like her mom’s–hedging, averted–
before she’s had a chance, please, to sip her martini.
Robert’s running on the roof, having provided excuses
to Accounting and outwaited the track’s lunchtime herds.
He yearns to shuck even these silky shorts and sprint
naked as a whitetail deer, leaping rooftop to rooftop.
Facing west, even through the massing storm he detects
a distant vein of aspen trees–”gilding the evergreen,”
he’ll tell Maggie when he drives her home this evening.
He’ll revise it tonight for Lisa–”A vein of gold, honey,”
he’ll say, slipping in his poetry just before the wine,
“just like a necklace dropped into the mountains.”
Short-sleeved in the snow-tracks of Robert’s Jeep,
John trudges, fortified by the bottle he clutches.
Bare arms sting in the same wind that howled
over the dead bighorn. He plumb forgot to ask
for a jacket at the Mission, but Christ, high noon,
it was eighty-five. Slushy tracks show the way
to the secret spot, RESERVED for Robert’s Jeep.
This’ll do again tonight, his ol’ parking lot.
He’ll sprawl like a sunbather on the sloping deck,
soused enough for a deep, fine, lasting sleep.
— Lee Patton
Subject plus predicate?
Please. Can’t rouse the effort.
Fragments sour in throat.
Lips split. Corners of smiles
crack. The ironclad sky? Dry.
Old snow from fizzled storms
collects soot in shaded corners.
Bleached grass just exists, wispy
hairs insisting to persist
on a cadaver. Peeling
house paint, shingles,
bricks, fences, balding men’s fuzz,
conifers, dog’s piss, God’s gaze
all blur, beige on gray on beige.
The only color lives in road-sand
dust devils, bright plastic
whirling into gutters. Ever
and ever the shortest month
stretches, a miser slow-counting
each expired gray-beige bank note,
all twenty-eight. Over and over,
to savor his worthless hoard.
— Lee Patton
BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS
1. Right Next Door
We got gut-aches when orange mesh sectioned-off
the ancient maples and Darren’s best swatch of lawn.
Ten years before, he’d painted shutters that same orange
(until Carol forced him to paint them over in muted gray),
the same orange as the twins’ basketball hoop, installed
over the new garage door. Family friend Angel helped
tear up the 60’s Astroturf to reveal ancient fir porch boards
(which Darren this time painted gray and only gray) that same
summer that Carol started her garden, bragging about basil,
scheming to trade her zucchini for our tomatoes, finding no takers,
but the plum and apple that she’d planted for each twin’s birth
shot up, gangly adolescents, branches reaching over our fence
to drop ripe windfalls every August. We returned the harvest
in cobbler for Angel’s citizenship party (goat roasted as a joke)–
red ,white, and blue bunting strung in eaves of their “farmhouse”
older than our century-old city neighborhood. Basting the goat,
Darren announced the news, they had to sell, they’d be “homeless”
living in his dad’s motorhome until they reached Columbus,
where Carol had been transferred by corporate. Then that realty sign,
then the mesh, then a couple of tailored guys in suits and twin Benzes,
then the jerky bulldozer waking us, push and retreat, like warfare
or nature mean and hungry, earthquake or tsunami. I thought first
of the twins’ initials in the smooth concrete of the driveway,
the markers of their height in the kitchen doorway, how Darren
believed they really did grow faster than weeds. That’s it–damn–
just weeds, FOR SALE, growing in the hole where Carol and Darren’s
house used to be.
2. Down in the Greenway
In ruins now, a middle-school nature project spills,
tattered in the greenway along June’s wild trails,
weaving among the willows, feral Russian olives,
native cottonwoods and outlaw spurge. Weather
shreds the kids’ handmade signs, almost illegible:
“CHOKECHERRY” and “STRAY CRABAPPLE.”
One sign’s stuck beside a spring-flow washout,
“CAREFUL, DANGER!” encircled in a smiley-face.
Between overgrown exotics, natives, and garden
escapees, joggers and dog-walkers cut their paths,
all forced to duck under the boulevard bridges,
the flood-stinking, rip-rapped, mud-caked homes
of the ones who don’t have houses. All the fragrant
clichés–shopping carts heaped with funky clothes,
massed-up sleeping bags, chucked beer cans,
off-brand vodka, fortified wine. It’s hot—ninety-
nine, searing sun—way too much for joggers
but not for Albino Woman, easing her Safeway cart
down a rock slide, her face red and blistered,
her white, fine hair a limp flag in breezeless noon.
Sighing, she slips unseen into deep shade
under the bridge and settles—home, to or from danger?
I know her. She pretends to shop most days, in A/C,
reciting cereal ingredients or polishing a plum, so busy
muttering, ever the fastidious shopper, or taking the role
of sacker, pushing her cartful of garments into supermarket lot
as if she had a job–as if the asphalt weren’t molten—or stacker
for the Garden Department’s plastic trays, emptied in
the Final Sale of chili pepper, sweet basil, tomato and petunia.
Now I know where she sleeps, under the clack of traffic,
atop the decades of piss, sheltered from the rain-and-hail
evening dramas–bustling, grinning, cancer-skin Albino Woman—
bleached-out, life-sized natural specimen
for the schoolkids’ tattered diorama,
her smile frozen in an aching face.
— Lee Patton
You can read more from Lee Patton at http://www.leepatton.net/