|July 2 - July 8, 2009
by Steve Elder
“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
You cross a green space to get to Boulder,
green thoughts dotted with black cows,
their hefty gentleness dwarfed by the Flatirons,
the mossy red-rock wall of a giantess,
and this her garden, Boulder.
Soul of corn, soul of tomatoes,
soul of blacktop and bobwire fence,
soul of mint leaf and pineapple,
soul of pine needles and the aspen’s green mirrors,
soul of lichen glowing blue on wet rocks,
soul of the wide-eyed buffalo, prairie thunder, canyon fog,
recombinant soul of stars and atoms, birds and waves,
fogbank soul, idler of a fertile valley,
on your highest summit you find a giant mosquito carved of gold.
Boulevardier, belle flaneuse, you live in your mind and love it there,
its pace as soft and easy as an old Miles Davis take.
When you emerge from your dwelling into the day’s bright ado
you feel a rhythmic displacement. The world can be too shiny, hard and fast.
Above, a glider, slim and silent, turns in the air and vanishes,
then reappears as if sent back to our dimensions.
When it alights, its stiff wings, like an ideology,
try to embrace the earth.
You carry a little cloud in your hand into the Dushanbe Teahouse.
You don’t look at it, only feel its silky fluff.
When you let it go it drifts into a bejeweled coffer above
and you wonder if a more beautiful space exists
than this one enclosed by stalwart Tajik master-builders.
It is as if you are inside an Easter egg and all
the noble things said about the human mind are true.
You feel we are the lone spirit in a barren universe,
that we will transform it from black and light and empty
into this Faberge garden.
College students are spread out on the grass
of the Norlin Quad. From your favorite angle
the grass looks like a green carpet rolled down from the foothills
to the rosy pillars of the library. A white Frisbee floats by,
serene. Students are bronzing, on their stomachs reading.
the perfect place at the perfect time. Boulder is beautiful
in late Spring. You lie down in the shade
and stare up at a low canopy of new leaves.
The sun and breeze play them like a keyboard
and they trill and twinkle. Their stillness in motion
seems to form a pattern that wants to tell you
something about the world and yourself. Sometimes
you think you should spend more time staring
at the leaves, with perfect focus…
You decide that your favorite cloud shape is that of the Skinny Pig:
exuberant aviator; freedom of the soul perfectly expressed;
world-trotting athleticism and vigor. In the activity
of your laziness you wonder if clouds can be described
as mountains are, with slopes, cirques, aiguilles, arêtes, cliffs – yes,
it’s no problem, but you’re glad you bothered.
As the CU men’s and women’s cross country teams lope by light
as gazelles it occurs to you that the most beautiful
girls and boys do not live in Des Moines,
but right here in Boulder, and yet they have a refreshing lack
of narcissism. Their eyes stare inwardly outward
distinguishing a private fulfillment. There’s a bird’s nest in the crook
of a branch above you – something sexy about it.
While you stand and stare at the bronze statue
of Frank Shorter below Folsom Field you wonder how life would be
if every citizen had their own bronze statue in public.
Surely civic virtue would improve, surely we would take care
to keep our statues clean or allow our patinas to rust in peace,
though some residents, unlike the pines and cottonwoods and their foliage,
might be shy about being stared at all hours in all weather.
Your own statue might go outside of Liquor Mart
along with a legion of others, like the ten thousand soldiers of Xi’an.
You’re not an alcoholic, you just like to drink a lot.
Good soul, it can take all afternoon to get through the day
and earn the cocktail, but there’s no need to rush.
Evenings come early in Boulder. When the Flatirons form
the western edge of your backyard, evenings come early.
But now the bold sunlight sparkles even in the muddy curbs
and the bicycles going by are the big old ones with pedal-brakes.
The bicycle of your soul is coasting along
and your heart is free for all takers.
You are intrigued by, you do not turn away from, the ugliness
and arrant functionality of parking lots, strip malls and their lack:
their lack of mystery, beauty and feeling altogether,
their eerie lack of eeriness, uncomfortable in a car and on foot,
where you feel interchangeable and become
Interchangeable You. No shopowners live above
the chain-stores and the chains are interchangeable, too.
Few last more than a few years and that
is the wonderful thing about them, they’ll soon be gone.
People of the future will wonder about them, how,
despite their ubiquity, they are almost absent from our art and advertisements.
Let them know no one liked them, no one wanted them or asked for them,
and no one wants to hear about them, our shared insanity. They won’t be
Historically Landmarking the Home Depot building anytime ever.
There’s a tarry glade in the urban forest where the sun’s A-list blond rays
can make you feel like a melting shadow.
Now you are on Pearl Street’s outdoor walking mall,
pearl of the city. Near-naked toddlers scream with delight
in the pulsing water feature. They will grow to forget
these swim-diaper moments and be left only
with the feeling that once the city’s heartbeat and theirs
were one. On a bench nearby sits a mother nursing
a red-lipped infant, her bosom luxurious. Furtive male eyes focus
and shift away as they pass.
Childhood seems like another country: palm trees,
gaudy flower petals the size of short pants, the air bright as turquoise
and infinite, as if you had been born in Polynesia and every sensation and idea
was a trickle of lava flowing into your mind
and off your tongue. You were a seal pup
in a life jacket in waters that might as well have surrounded
a castaway’s island, your expression one of joy uncompromised.
But when that island became too small, your parents moved you
to American suburbs, a way-station where you waited to become
a big-city adult, anticipating the drinks, dancing and sex,
long neon nights and secret grottos where the best jazz was played
for you and your sleek glossy lover, dressed as fashion models.
But that big-city adulthood turned out to have a different sort
of long night: too often it was dismal and robotic, the possibilities
of transcendence flattened out with everything else. Now you study
the flatness, you stand and stare while ordinary life nods and moves on,
and find a surprising richness. With the gauze removed,
the pupation scar on your consciousness is mesmerizing,
you are tempted to study it intimately with your nose, lips, your cheek,
and get a sense of its aftertaste. You know you still carry an island
of childhood within, calm and golden as the hum of a heavy-lidded afternoon.
You see Crazy Richie, the anti-Boulder Boulderite, sitting alone
with a beer at a sidewalk café, no doubt devising a new project.
Maybe he will petition the City to change its name to New Tibet.
He has the signatures! Or he will suggest that free burritos
be given to everyone who installs solar panels.
Or if he’s feeling ultra-manic, he might rush into the Law Library
and demand that he be given a “Fair trial!” all the while referring
to the Reference Librarian as “Your Honor.”
He criticizes Boulder incessantly, right down to the colors of its public tulips,
but is rendered speechless with horror by the developments
that have burgeoned along the highway to Denver, suburbs like painted strawberries,
chalky, with a synthetic texture, unlovable, unworthy of his criticism.
You hail Crazy Richie and tell him you had an interesting dream.
“Other people’s dreams are boring.” You ask if that’s true in every case.
He gives you a nuclear stare and repeats what he said.
As you drift away you tell him that the dream was about him.
Then you laugh inside as a flock of magpies glide, almost hover, down
to the Courthouse lawn, their wingtips curved up.
You love the common birds, their easy familiarity and taken-for-granted virtues:
sparrows and starlings, little parking-lot hoppers;
red-wing blackbirds bobbing atop cattails;
shy flickers banging on chimney-caps, irate for love;
delicate-footed nuthatches climbing up pine-trunks
and their siblings, the perky titmice making melody in the bushes.
The magpies strut on the lawn, fat as turkeys. You want to squeeze them.
Gentle nature romances from a distance –
the shampooed raccoons, chubby prairie-dogs and woolly-bears,
their fuzzy picture-book quality, which would be lost without
the massacres going on off-stage, the daily diet, recycled in every mouthful of life.
Once, your late mother called you “bird-brain” and you thanked her.
When she became a corpse, you saw the peaceful body, wended out of time,
her eyes curiously alert to a distance you couldn’t distinguish. And yet
sometimes you look forward to the future as a sort of holiday.
She’s ashes in a lake now, and you think how you have always preferred
a wind-blown life, no forty-year career plan for you,
no improving yourself to death based on the latest reliable standards.
You love the murky green depths of lakes and tarns
and imagine swimming on their weedy floors and finding the cleft
that marks the deepest, quietest spot. You touch it gingerly with a finger,
leave a cleft in the cleft, and feel the lake bed tremble
as little fish, glowing green, dart about you.
Sometimes you feel as though you are missing something,
something so fundamental there is no word for it.
Without knowing it, others seem to have it between themselves,
you see it in the effortless nods and smiles they convey to each other.
They only become aware of the fundamental something when it’s lacking,
a flicker of horror they can’t suppress when you miss a cue
or say the perfectly wrong thing. But at other times,
you feel you are the only one who has this something.
It keeps you whole, outlined, while others are blurry
and don’t even realize how unenthusiastic the air around them must be.
You have coined a word for the fundamental something,
rhythm-colored, consonant-shaded, highlighted by long vowels.
You keep it to yourself, your secret word, as mysterious
as the silence of cheese.
It is evening and the pine needles glow gold, twinkling
in the nuzzling breeze like stars in a green sky.
You drift from sky to sky, gargantuan, dramatic and hammy western skies
always posing for the hobby painters.
Red sky of high rage,
Rose sky of softening brick,
lilac sky above the exhalation of trees,
lapis sky with moon dipped in goat’s milk,
gray sky in which what-might comes out,
and the long blanket of the espresso sky slowly pulled overhead,
hemmed with light and dew. You drift.
Now you are in the Main Branch of the Public Library.
You smile because you have an ace up your sleeve – a reference question!
You climb the wide circular stone staircase up to the Reference Desk
feeling your body emerge, as if from water, with each step.
Finally whole at the top, fully visible and out of breath,
you see the librarian you love, a spreader of good cheer, an inciter of peace.
She smiles at you and the sight of her teeth makes you shiver within.
She can see the ace up your sleeve on your face, it shows.
She braces herself, trepidating with glee. You ask
as if it’s a most common and natural thing,
“Are they teaching birds to read yet?” It’s always the birds with you.
She peeps inside her imagination for a beat, then responds,
“As a matter of fact, they’re teaching birds to teach birds to read.
Right now the ravens are teaching the loons with little primers.”
This exciting news doesn’t sound as farfetched as it should.
You’re thinking, “Surely she means blackbirds, not ravens.
Blackbirds are much smarter than ravens.
Meadowlarks, even sparrows, orioles, too. So many birds of genius!”
As you move to inquire further, your inner and outer selves beaming,
a voice on the PA as slow and smooth as Amaretto, announces,
“The Library will be closing in fifteen minutes.
Please complete your library business and exit the building.”
The combination of “library” and “busyness” fills you with anxiety,
as does the word “complete,” which means
both “perfection” and “death” to you.
With a wave, off you go, down the stairs and out
through the rakish glass fez of the foyer,
into a Boulder that is now dark.
You close your eyes and listen to Boulder.
Your cover your eyes with your hands as you strenuously listen to Boulder.
Over the low waves of traffic on Broadway, you hear a distant train whistle.
It takes you back one hundred years to a smaller, balder town
with a surplus of potential, colored in sepia and cream.
Behind each mossy little home glows an endless prairie,
an infinity of dazzling long grasses.
A gull cries.
Was it real? Don’t open your eyes!
You are transformed into a child on the ocean shore,
you feel the fresh and heavy air on your skin, in your nose. Like the prairie grass,
the ocean makes you feel invigorated and empty at the same time.
And then the drums begin.
Boulder Creek passes under the library’s glass bridge.
It is lined with rich, leafy trees. Inside the trees
are drummers, three of them, according to your intense ears,
playing by hand rhythms from Africa or Brazil, where the foliage
is dark and deep and thrilling. The drumbeats ripple along the ribcage of the night.
You open your eyes and begin to climb The Hill. The drums become fainter
and fainter but never quite go away. Not so long ago
when you were a CU student, The Hill was loud and messy,
ratty couches and rusty hibachis on every porch, stereo speakers
in open windows. It’s the same now, though with fewer couches,
and it’s hard to tell if the new music is better or worse than the old,
or merely a different series of thumps. In between the revelers’ dwellings
live the disaffected – distant and unconnected, proud, sad and scornful,
waiting, horrified, to recycle bullied childhoods and let their reservoirs
of trapped energy sprout in simple green harmony.
You already know everything you need to know about life.
It’s like a fashion model, bored and beautiful, and don’t
get your hopes up, It doesn’t like you in that way.
You remember when you saw a shard of God on Jay Road
near a farmhouse. There were probably cows nearby.
You were coasting east on your bike when a sign moved,
a horn blew, and there it was staring at you, glum and studious,
completely unselfconscious until it realized you could see it
and, as if embarrassed, it flew off. Above your head you could feel
the contrail of its knowledge, only minutely fathomable,
and a voice without a voice say, “Death is not death, you’ll see.”
Then it was gone as if it never happened. Was it a frolic of the mind?
It felt as if it had happened before, but you’d missed and dismissed
it, incredulous. This time you relaxed, let loose and held tight, waiting
for a return, waiting for another moment of fragile certainty.
And life hasn’t been quite the same anymore, not as bad,
not as hopeful, a long wait, a long watchful wait.
As you climb The Hill, it gets darker and noisier, but one party
stands out. It’s in the backyard of a frat house, hidden
by a brick wall with patches of ivy. Two teenage boys
are outside the wall, one giving a boost, the other
looking down at regular intervals to scratch his left ear
and broadcast the event in a froggy, amazed voice.
You stop and listen. “Dude,
this is the best wet t-shirt contest ever!
All four of them have taken it all off.
They are totally nude and shaking it.
Dude, mine eyes dazzle, phones are flashing,
and there’s beer everywhere in plastic cups.
You have to see it – best night of my life.
These babes are pros, they gotta work at The Bustop.”
You stroll on as if walking out of an oily lake. You feel something
of the divine in every desire, even as each one droops and falls away.
You were lured into the Bustop once – it smelled like it wanted
all of your money for almost nothing. And you remember
your Sex Ed teacher with the lisp reciting at the start of class,
and the class chanting after him in giggles,
“Penith, penith, penith…. Vagina, vagina, vagina…. Anuth, anuth, anuth….”
Lisping the terms made them seem sweeter. You don’t think of yourself
it’s as if your self has been brushed aside by an evil wing.
You have your prudish moments and they disturb you
less than you might wish.
University Avenue is relaxed and wide, lined with modest older homes,
some only a few feet from the sidewalk. As you pass a small rental
a live horn blows within, a long sustained note
that seems to open up a landscape for your ear.
When it ends you can still feel the whole note,
as if the breadth of your senses has been rendered anew.
On the street, a car is tailing you. You wish it would pass
but it just creeps along behind, outside of your vision.
Exasperated, you turn. It’s only a green Subaru,
official car, it seems, of Boulder. Inside are three young women
dressed in what appear to be togas. You climb in the back,
letting your fantastic destiny do its work, and the three of them
let out a whoop. Your fellow backseat passenger has the warm combination
of short red hair and big brown eyes. She’s a White Witch who once gave you a spell,
free of charge, to catch a lover and it worked, such was your confidence,
before you even purchased the candles and foil paper
necessary for its performance.
You are being driven up Flagstaff Road, switchbacking into the mountains.
You’re on a ladder to midnight and the stars will be feathered.
You have been handed a joint, phallic-shaped, but with the calm
vaginal smell of marijuana. It will turn your whole body and mind
into that most sensitive patch of your body. You are all feel now,
the night air is velvet, the surrounding pines lanky and savory.
You believe you can smell the minerals in the blond rocks and red boulders.
You have no want – you watch and feel. You have no wants but
warm things to watch and feel. Below,
downtown Boulder looks like a galactic patch of red and yellow stars
surrounded by the dark void of the plains.
The residential neighborhoods are lit by your memory:
On Mapleton Hill you saw a black lab poop
in a yard that was not its own.
Walking by a Whittier ranch house you heard
an old phone ring and your heart swelled
like the LAX music in Mulholland Drive.
In Martin Acres you saw a little boy alone
speaking to some shrubbery and wondered
what else he would talk to as he aged.
On the way to Eldorado Springs you saw a black bull
mount a brown cow in the green spring rains
and your heart flickered like a camera.
While riding the Skip in SoBo, two cell-phone ringtones
went off simultaneously and you were able to identify
each piece of music before the phones were answered
(“Hail to the Chief” and “Burning Down the House”).
It made your head spin like the church bells that rang
as the Anti-Columbus Parade marched by.
And once in the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art
you saw a glass box that contained a pair of old sneakers
suspended by their laces from a hook. Later,
as you crossed Broadway, you saw laced sneakers hanging
from a phone wire and you pointed and exclaimed to your companion,
“Look! All of Boulder’s an art installation. And we’re in it!”
When the Subaru stops, deep in crags and pines, you feel a twinge
of disappointment. Your sense of being was in harmony with the car’s motion,
the hum of its engine. Now you have to untangle
your limbs and get your feet on the ground.
You are walking single file on a path through the pines,
each witch a bright shadow ahead and behind.
The smell of the pines and their sap is overwhelming.
When you stumble you giggle.
Now there are giant rocks on either side. You are in a crevasse.
It tightens, pressing your lungs and squeezing your peripheral vision.
You are into the wild, beyond the popsicle trucks.
Your faith, your trust, is in the movement of white robes.
And then the rocks step back like doormen. You are in an opening
where a bonfire burns. You feel you are at the bottom
of a wide and rocky well, the rock goes up so high and straight
the moonlight has to creep down from the top. You are in what is said
to be a natural cathedral. Shaggy-haired, slim-hipped boys and girls
sit around the bonfire sharing a pipe. You join them,
and then your body feels like nothing so much as an ambulant
sexual organ, as if you were a swollen clitoris sheathed in foreskin.
You new self has worlds within. You feel them skittering. And they have worlds
within them inhabited by little souls no bigger than the grains of sand
on the world of a grain of sand. They argue and make peace
and their chaos produces your daydreams and snap hallucinations.
They are so small as to be almost unreal, but whether imaginary or not,
their mass is, given that of the Earth, the sun, and the Milky Way beyond,
roughly equivalent to your own.
You have stepped into the night and the stars are all in your head.
The Greeks stared at them, the Egyptians, the Golden Horde,
your parents and their parents and their parents’ parents, everyone
born with sight has stared up at the silver river of sky-candles
and wondered who they were, and you are one of them. You feel
a heart-billowing humility and gratitude wash through your insides
and flush your face. You stare and suddenly feel
the space around you growing heavier. The white witches are dancing
around the bonfire chanting spells – good spells only
(they believe that wicked spells return to haunt the caster).
A spell requesting a lack of aridness;
a spell for plentiful rain and snow in general;
a spell to help alleviate a Mr. Horace’s hyperthyroidism;
a spell to rid a Miss Haura of gum disease,
a spell to make the motors of chainsaws and leaf-blowers seize up;
a spell for the propagation of the endangered;
a spell for the fruitfulness of tomatoes, corn, basil, marijuana, the splendid grains, etc.;
and surely others. With each spell you can feel the humid interstices between bodies taking form, the space where the mind roams
and absence becomes contemplation. The atmosphere is gelling with itself.
You are holding hands but can’t tell which hands are yours.
Your legs are wobbling, fighting to stay upright. And then they’re gone!
Your legs are made of air and you are the Dance itself.
You glimpse an image of whitecaps and bleating lilies
as you fire-walk into the cleansing darkness.
When you wake up you do not open your eyes.
You hear the sound of running water. Your body is too heavy
to feel temperature, even though it is somewhat naked,
dressed only in dirt and leaves. You feel you are the dirt,
you feel that you cannot feel. When you open your eyes
you experience a moment of pure terror – there is nothing
but a gray slab above you. When you realize it is the underside
of a picnic table, you chuckle. You love your moments
of pure terror, incomprehensible forms in your animal mind
vibrating into and out of being
as they bear down.
Always outlasting ecstasy, you had been dreaming, your head packed tight
with gravel. A young couple held a baby before you and asked
what to name it. Your closet door opened and inside was deep space,
perfectly cold and silent, then a starship floated by like a swan
with little sonar beeps. You turned to the parents and said,
“His name shall be Lithius.” The couple was naturally satisfied,
but as they receded you were disturbed.
There is something you have forgotten and maybe don’t want to remember,
but what? As you emerged from your dream it emerged into your dream,
and now you notice the horse-chestnut in your hand,
a horse-chestnut of mysterious provenance. You rub
its smooth underside with your thumb like a worry-stone. Rub it sensually
and I will tell you what you saw –
it was the ghost of yourself in the distance,
sitting on a boulder looking westward,
ignoring you as if you were a dew-speck of memory.
It was completely indifferent to your eager helloes.
You roll out from under the picnic table and stand up.
You are alone in Eben G. Fine Park.
The sun reveals all of itself and the common-life splendors
are spread out before you just as the day is:
a hot bath, a crisp towel, your favorite chair,
a cup of coffee, a contemplative smoke, and shoes that fit.
In sober truth, you realize you love the world,
all of it. There is no compelling reason not to. Even your aching angel-blades.
It is just another momentary feeling. It will pass, let it pass. It will grow and grow
too far, and die and rest till stirred again. Let it pass.
How well have you done with all the luck you had?
It’s time to return to the warmth and moisture
of your dwelling,
belayed as it is. Steve Elder has an MA in creative writing from CU, and has been writing poetry for 15 years. He was co-winner of CU’s Jovanovich Poetry Manuscript Prize in 2003, and was the Featured Poet in an issue of the New Orphic Review in 2004.
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