On a path cut through the canyon below Gold Hill,
I watched the hillside’s clay wash away
all traces of the past, like me
trying to shed from memory your collapse;
but deep beneath the surface, these hills still hold the story:
of those traveling west; of miners lost,
who dug these great holes and opened the earth
for mines long since mined for precious metals;
of shafts hidden out under long grass
by streams of water falling off in braids
into canyons opened under trestles now splintered;
of those who inhaled cave dust, or how those
with gnarled fingers sifted through streamwash,
waiting for the moment that flinttooth bites
down on the heavies, hoping for a nugget;
of those who brandished lanterns in dark places,
carried knives in leather scabbards,
choked on cave-in rubble –their tallow flames sunk blue,
snuffed to black – leaving only
the ancestral bones of a hundred men crumbled to fossils;
of the cherished relics, the sacred remembrances.

I climb down now through the clay-walled shaft
quarrying for answers – how you took black tar
on a spoon with water and flame
until the last crystallite disappeared and you sucked
the amber liquid into your rig, into your veins –
as I cling to bristleroot, feeling through darkness,
and cram my fist into a wet hole, taking hold,
prying loose the broken stone that shudders off
to a hollow tick, and I cringe with the thought that I might slip,
scraping past a crag’s wet edge, pierced by a rock in the sump gully,
as a nightmare sweat breaks cold across my face.

Each afternoon here, the storms come.
The rain washes through the cactus rows
in these Flatirons, worms rise from the ground
of their own accord, the first of the white pine topples
over, borne down by its own weight, uprooted
from a shelf of clay before a white sun spinning
down light breaks from a cloud rim and opens
to puddle surfaces, with an oily spectrum of color,
leaving only the wet stone to smoke
and rushes of gutter water churning on down to the shallows.
In city and suburb, another youth flatlines.

I dream of a miner pruning a thicket
grown into his cart tracks, clearing away storm rubble,
staring at the sky as if in exchange of some silent spirited cry
by which he wishes to acknowledge his overcoming of defeat
in these hills. I see some others crouched by a fire
at the opening of their cave at night, boiling sassafras roots –
a witch’s tea – they gnaw a bacon rind and an ear of dried corn,
they talk about ginseng. They cast no shadows.

If only we could peer down into the earth
with such clarity as a miner – like you
searching your soul, escaping to the rush – eye a gleaming vein,
would we stay here in these cold hills,
ward off a cougar at night, then at dawn wield a pickaxe,
and wave a flame’s light into some dark corner, until
as if in answer to the beckoning
of tinny knocks on telluride
there erupts an earthly rumble
as the mine’s ribs collapse
and bruise light absorbs into a blacker light
that remains as the heart of this place,
and from which at the opening of the mine’s last shaft,
the cold emerges.