A love letter from Colorado in uncertain times

Cover Image

Wow, I can’t stop with this community. Amazing. So I’m RECording this love letter because I’ve been wanting to do something visual with it for a while. Or spoken wordish. Or both. Still, I fear this is super navel-gazey. I’m sure many of you have seen the animated interpretation of Hank Bukowski’s “The Man with the Beautiful Eyes” (if you’re not familiar with the poem, it’s a must read; if you haven’t seen the adaptation, do). I am much affected by that film, and about a month after I wrote this letter I started making little sketches, thinking of it visually. Alas, I work with words. But maybe one of you can help.

And yeah, this really is a love letter. And yes, of course, I really sent it. And no, things did not go well. But man, I got a lot of stories out of it…

A love letter from Colorado in uncertain times

Now I’ve woken
—you couldn’t much call it a sleep—
and my cheek left a faint print on the oval window;
you can see where my crow’s feet pressed
against the glass if you study it.
I’ve woken because the plane is shaking,
drifting, gaining and losing altitude
as it navigates the growing cold.
The Rocky Mountains conjured themselves
while my eyes were closed
and I cannot see
anything other than their ponderosa trunks,
the snow unfurled across their tops in every direction.
I lose them, the mountains, when the plane dips
through a purple thunder cloud
and my stomach dips with it,
then itself grows cumulus with
the thrill of lost sight,
the plane’s frozen shaking,
the clouds like candied bruises against the sky.
Now I’m out of the clouds,
now back in them
only this time they’re white,
now out again and the mountains are behind me
and the high Courbet pastures of Colorado
stretch around, damp plains that
do nothing but collect snow in the winter;
cultivate wildflowers in the summer.
A swath of them, a curried wave,
unfurls to my left as the plane gets low enough
for me to see the cars on distant streets.
Fences mark paths everywhere, and my first thought,
being from a cattle state, is where are all the cows?
Then, of course, I see they are lean-to fences,
reinforced with a timbered X, and I realize that they,
like everything here,
exist only in anticipation of the snow.
I’m close enough now to see small,
patternless pools of water
(in bad fiction it would be called brackish
but I’ll just call it muddy).
The plane gives a massive shudder and dive
and I focus on the little brown pools
and the patches of wildflowers
and the wet, coiled grass and know
that I do not wish just to survive life,
but to really try.

Now I’m flying down the interstate
just outside Denver.
A small amusement park is
closed for refurbishment, its manmade lake
and small wooden coaster
lonely against the highway.
Without meaning to I think of sitting
in a cool movie theatre, my hand in your lap.
A man, maybe sixty, goes by on a big motorcycle,
helmetless and without a shirt.
I think of his shower later, of him
scrubbing the splattered bugs from his chest hair.
He signals lane changes diligently
by raising and clenching his palm
and I think how unfair that my mother,
who wears hats,
is dying of skin cancer and this man rides
half naked in the ultraviolet July.
Now I remember I don’t so much
believe in fair and unfair in that context.
Now I remember that, since you, I believe many things
I once didn’t.
Grayish dandelions as big as my fists grow
and blow everywhere and Cat Stevens
comes on the radio,
the mountain station,
and you fill my eyes,
know why I smile
at the opening chord.

Now I’m passing clusters of rusting trailers,
some with trampolines in the backyard
for children to jump on, injure in.
With a lurch images come of my children,
of your child,
mangled in a spring
and it’s hard work to push them away.
There are old gold mines,
the moldering wood shafts and silted slides
as indigenous as the mountains themselves,
as the trees that grew the wood.
I think of you when you’re angry or stoic.
I think of the hunters and gatherers we came from.
I think that I disagree with you;
the hunters needed the group
as much as the gatherers.
More maybe.
Now I look at the rocks,
think they’re stoic, closed.
But I look again.
The rocks are weeping. They are porous.
They let the fresh snow in, absorbed it,
and they weep it out of fissures too small to see.
The tears of the rocks trickle onto the
shoulder of the highway.
I would push my face against those rocks;
I would press my tongue against their
steep faces and taste their winter sadness.
I cannot stem their flow,
I can only tell them
Rocks, rocks I am also not so stoic.
I, too, feel winter equal to spring.

In this way every place I go I think of you
—even when I’m thinking only of myself, of
this animated mountain and
the world beyond it, when for a few minutes
I get lost and forget that you even exist—
and now especially I think of you because
the stream the highway’s been chasing
opens into a river,
opens up so wide that it defies my metaphor.
But you would have a gracious one.
And now, just after the river opens up,
the rain starts, flying rain, and it becomes
impossible to tell what’s hitting the windshield:
rain or dandelion fluff
or the occasional small rock
tumbling off the cliffs on our right.

Now I’m leaving the scraggly country
and soon will be able to mark
the wealth of the geography
by the evolution of ski lifts.
Pines are everywhere
(except, of course,
where they’ve been razed for recreation),
but they look different from pines in California,
which look different from pines in Arizona,
and I’m spending a good long time
wondering about that trick of nature.
Just before the Eisenhower tunnel
barrels me under miles of rock,
the mountains flatten out and look,
with their shallow patches of low,
leftover snow,
like the hide of a great Holstein.
On the other end of the tunnel
I start to take in the first lithium
of the beginning
of the end
of another day of uncertainty.

And now.
Now I’m sitting in a leather chair
that’s meant to look old
but isn’t.
The windows are open and
Beaver Creek
rushes away from the mountain
just a few feet away.
At first it’s hard to place the noise
and I look for an air conditioner
or fan to switch off.
Then I recognize it, it’s the soft,
swift whooosh of my own coursing blood,
as when I hold a conch to my ear
or first put in my earplugs at night.
My heart pumps that water
—that cold, colorless water—
down from the snowy summit
to the extremities of the drowsy forest.
My blood flows away from me,
I hear it out the window,
it courses for you, to you.
It will be carried from the creek to a tributary
to the mighty Colorado.
It will flow across four states,
along the sunken apricot caves
under the South Rim,
through my desert
and our desert
under the refracted, light-giving stars.
And there the smiling sky will suck it up,
accept it, form it into the marine layer,
into the geranium-kissed clouds over Highland Park,
into the morning dew that glazes your unsettled world
before you’ve ever woken.

Created: Jan 21, 2010


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