Skip Baldwin

Gulls at Horsetooth Reservoir

cut stones emerge, acropolis
of an extinct grammar
arranged where a schoolhouse
stood in morning shadows

the coffin of water lifted
after half a century, drowned
hogback town of Stout maps itself slowly
surviving a careless curator

straw hat red bandana relic hunter
combs evacuated gravesites
looking for names, wanders
old railroad bed toward quarries

shining stumps of trees
dusted timbers, shards of porcelain
Victorian mirrors, trimmed hairs
of eloquent beards, lace, bonnets

from the dam, we can see the silver
siphon, repaired after Centennial Flood
of Big Thompson, vibrating with waterflow
it will take a year & Stout

will be gone again, a mind
beneath abstracts of boat wakes
a secret only shadows know
our little Atlantis

out of snowfields in the Mummy Range
gulls fly in, float on slack, silted waters —
enough souls for a little town, backs
for the work, eyes for a long sandstone sunrise

— Skip Baldwin

Two Trees, Confluence Park

to honor the confluence
of Cherry Creek & the South Platte
shallow concrete steps
wade into dour water, a kayak
course has been dug up by the waterfall
& no one is here except
a few kids lurking & drinking
in the dark of a bridge span
upstream, silting lungs with grass

a billboard for Chevrolets
shouts toward the Denver skyline
& provides a little light
so that we see the old buildings
turning their backs of chipped
brick & cinder blocks:
a good place to form a new
government & we will lead the ticket
since we are the only two
silent trees present which can walk
& are registered to vote
in this quiet primary

our leaves are invisible poems
our branches embrace even this acrid
wind, false dawn, rusted barrels
& live to embrace warm spirits
who come to listen, who cannot
be here in collected sound
of ghost traffic, screeching
Friday night tires, clinking
cocktail ice — yes, we will vote
our poems, survive
to lecture non-believers
crossing this silted waterway,
these roots.

— Skip Baldwin

The Sky-Vue Luncheonette

swiveling from a fine view
of the Capitol dome, the cook
bows & continues scrambling
yellow souls, painting blank
electrocuted white bread

down the counter sits a regular
in blue coveralls with a stitched name
unraveling on his left breast
you’ve seen him return and return
to pan a hopper load of sugar
with his bright spoon, to be called “sweetheart”

the empty seat on your right
has been nice, enough room to turn
your knees & watch the Denver skyline grow
& spread out the comics
& view the stammering feet down a row of booths
where they sit back-to-back, being punished

but now a grandmother-father
swings onto the tattered vinyl
into invisible stirrups waggling
a cigar stub with four teeth
beneath his stained white mustache
& wafting flowery cologne with a tricot shirt

he looks at you as if he doesn’t think
you’re worth much, but would give you
a raise anyway & stares until the chubby
waitress covered with jelly stains can’t
ignore him anymore: she calls the manager
& a fight starts about the last walk-out
& the grandmother-father cries into your breakfast

you try, but your smile has changed
over the years & the eggs seem to turn
into a sea of ashes & rotting tears
& gold light glints strangely off the dome
as the cook in his whites and the skinny manager
escort him out to the pigeons on 13th Street

— Skip Baldwin

Big Thompson, after the Centennial Flood

We followed new canyon road, smooth bends blasted above the river course, reflecting arid blue sky, and see how slack Big Thompson can be in July, the work of springs, diminished snowfields, scant runoff.

It was here a thunderstorm, held from straying on across the drought plains by some strange mind in 1976, pitchforked these crags with lightning, scoured washes, slashed the highest watermarks, sent boulders to stroke little cabins, and gathered its water in a twenty-foot wave at the narrows.

Above us, like witnesses turning their heads, outcrops perch, about to breath, and this low water echoes, begins a pastorale for this stunning place where earth shows herself, where foothills sweep off like drifts of fool’s gold.

Where canyon days are mostly shadow, a life continues. The paint is fresh; trinkets, buckles, geodes, turquoise necklaces, beaded belts gleam through shop windows which are still stickered, streaked with caulk, spattered with mud. Cars pull in to the turnouts, tourists pose for little cameras, always looking up, sighting the wild peaks, claiming incredible canyon walls, formations, folds of time.

On sagging one-by-six stands, rattled by traffic, gallons of cherry cider are offered, as if the gifts of plasma are to be given back from the days when churches and schools arched with hymns, turned into hospitals, morgues, press boxes overnight. For each body silent in plastic on a stretcher, a whole family was missing, another cabin heaped into a rough spirit-boat of shingles and splinters of timbers, broken glass, leather Bibler covers. Helicopters, unable to fight the weather, returned empty. Red crosses, little flags patched on shoulders, trekked toward dark trails.

A barometer in our temples fluctuates wildly. The sun above us seems to be a star we can’t know, a warning that each name burned in soft wood, each hand or limb, trying to catch or cling in this deep-six place, is a gesture only for the rain and dust, for light and darkness, something which only for a few years makes a shadow.

There are eyes here, still, which fear the lightest feather of cloud, fingers which go pale in tap water, hands which grasp for roots along the cutbanks as children play splashing in the river dazed by summer.

We walk across a new bridge, our tentative footfalls echo into the pull of slicks and whirlpools, a little dust wishes into small rapids.

Back in Loveland, on Route 34, we find a wide window and order white wine, prepare for rainbow trout. There appears to be a clock with no hands on each plate, and as the meals pass to table after table, we think of the names of the lost who were simply out for a holiday drive on Independence Day, cleaning off the picnic table, finding raingear for the kids, sipping a last beer, hastily raising a tent, bleakly disbelieving the rangers and police, thinking through the words “flash flood” when it hit.

At sunset, sated, we watch carefully how a blue haze rises here, above the flood plane, as if to darken the undersides of the gilded clouds or obscure the strange sun as it pierces itself on a distant peak before we hear the hush of a light rain ushering others from the canyon. Drops of coffee stain the white tablecloth. We leave for home.

— Skip Baldwin

Hogback Fire, First Day of Spring

all afternoon, the sky
so dry & wind struck
you could throw a match & burn it off

around Ft. Collins
smoke signals of a hundred camped tribes
as farmers & ranchers burn out
irrigation ditches

blackened remains of yellow grasses
run with smoke like a blood
from the heart of drought

we look to the foothills
for rain clouds & a cool moist breeze
off the snows of the Divide
for at least a signal, a gull, a green vision

but someone has started a fire
which runs up the flank of a hogback
out of control, jumps to another

when the evening comes there is heat lightning
& long summer ahead, empty reservoirs
feed shadow to baking creeks, fire stalks town
a lynch mob carrying torches

— Skip Baldwin

Coyote Brothers, Cherokee Parks
— For Don Snow

another river’s voice
north wind in strata
above north fork, Cache La Poudre
we keep to our saddle of light
draw the mind
for what might appear

January sun
spawns on small rapids
streams beneath filet shadows
of fir & spruce
& these prisms of quartz
disembodied eyes
modify the air & blue
of false thaw

we hear the gunshots upstream
magpies startle from kill bones
& seven coyotes lope downwind
cross the light of the waters
flank our still sculpted gaze
a few paces below

when they have passed
we stalk for another look
but point coyote has doubled back
seizes ground in tall yellow grass
amber flame eyes slay daylight
tawny fur threatens
& we freeze, two species
in wilderness

the others find us
protect two pups
we wait & they decided to vanish
in seconds over
surreal granite ledge
& we are left
swift only in mind

— Skip Baldwin

From Harper’s Corner:
Dinosaur National Monument

there is a name, a place
for all your voices
Echo Park

new hands in canyon rock
work ones which seem new
true them like wheels or planets

you call two rivers
Yampa & Green
to sing a confluence
above the others, a great voice
you have almost forgotten
kept here
in what seems to be
a burial ground for impossible
light, a tomb, seeps painted
by spirits, for vanished waters

sun sends your shadow
down like a message, your hand
is the whirlpool
stirring away maroon vulcan rock
or the piňon
casting its fossil light
on white sandstone, reversed roots

you watch your shadow
begin to climb from the confluence
on its own
you hear your echoes
pass through them
like shedding skins

when you are near the sky again
above the rim
you can continue on footholds
no wider than simple words
in all shapes
ones you have heard before

— Skip Baldwin


economy here
seems to be maintaining
the Moffat tunnel, the pass
making strange films, removing snow
or letting it all be

great plows, steep pitched roofs
like flukes of whales
& time capsules of propane
keep in the pine whisper quiet
in the shuffle of time

you could sit here
for a century, the brakeman
of memory beside these tracks
& never know where the Conoco
came from, or the slick little cars
with ten-gallon tanks

I stop for gas, weather
& a six of road beers, wheat thins
for the longhorn cheese, engage
her gaze long enough to pay
& watch the Rembrandt storm
descend dark peaks

— Skip Baldwin

All of the above works are from A PROVINCE INTO BEING, 1984, Bread & Butter Press.


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