by Joseph Baldwin

Even when sitting on the lawn,
squirrels seem perched:
clinging as they do to ground
as if it might sway
in the next wind.
Never are they less than
tense, sinuously sleek.
Always poised for the quick
dart, the lunge, or
skittering flight to safety.

Never a wasted motion: witness
especially the flickering twitch
in a false direction before the
true thrust; such feints
are of most value.

They make fools of cats,
who, to salvage something,
break off the chase, subside,
and look regal and uncaring.

30 September

by Joseph Baldwin

On the last day of the month, October
came in six hours early,
bringing a sweet wind out of the north
running before rain.
Spreading out over the plains was a
blue-gray sea for sky,
with surprising white flecks of foam
before it.
Smoke-puff clouds scraped their bellies
on the hills to the west,
which, a child out of the mountains, I once
scorned as lying too low,
now my own and loved.

Unleashed winds blew eagerly about
our valley
with the wayward motion that was to
be the carrier of leaves.

Autumn spirits announced the end of
with a delight akin to that of the
rebirth in Spring;
soon afterward, trees and people began
clothing themselves in red and brown.

Idyl in a Willys-Knight

by Joseph Baldwin

Other roads followed the level ground,
but this one turned a corner to the right
around a farmstead and its dark red buildings,
and the car strained over to the left, then centered
on the road
to follow up the gentle slope of a small hill,
then dropped down on the other side into a quiet
where good people were sitting down to supper
after prayers.
Idly-pecking hens stepped about near the old
staunchly-built barn,
and a collie came sniffing eagerly to the gate,
his brown eyes welcoming. One tanned youth
came striding in late from the field and sprang
up the back steps
and buried his face in water his hands scooped
up from the basin.

One more long look. Then the Willys, at the
pressure of my foot,
lifted its nose and pointed away toward mountains
that lay like a purple cloud bank on the horizon.

One of the tiny lights set in that loftiness
marked where we should find shelter for the night;
which one, we’d discover in good time: the steady
climbing toward that promise was now, for the long
peace enough and fulfillment, in itself.


by Joseph Baldwin

A raw wind bent trees, blew through people and houses,
making them skeletons-of-the-moment; flesh reviving
after an interval,
but flesh discouraged, unsure of itself;
siding, stones, bricks intact, opaque once more, but
now open to question.
That wind, while it endured, was like a stark insight,
exposing — not to the eye but to intuition,
second-sight —
the structure of things, their intricate interlacings
of girders, timbers, and bones,
beautiful in design, beautiful even in accidental
or whimsical patterns of jointure and bracing;
but, alas, revealing which supports and linkages
were doubtful, which joints arthritic.

Subsidence, crumbling, and decay: their coming,
always expected in due course,
was indicated, in certain areas, as imminent.

Wind, itself transitory by nature, makes sojourners
of us, as well;
but also brings, mingled with that chill of dread,
a slender thought of soaring, an almost-hope
of ranging free of attachment, cured of the
temerity of substance,
sobriety of weight.

Private Soldier

by Joseph Baldwin

I am one among the platoon they sent
to seize that itinerant preacher, rabbi, magician,
or whatever he was. And, being pushed forward, first
to lay hand on him. (Not the sort of thing
I’d do on my own, but you know how it is with a squad,
fellows pressing all about you.) Well,
before I knew what was happening, some wild peasant
among them had whipped out his sword, and there in the dust
was my ear! — before anything started to hurt.
I mean, blood from it was spreading and making dark mud,
and the side of my head felt cool, as if a breeze
had touched that side and not the other.
Up this leader of theirs stood, he the cleanest-looking of them,
and lifted his hand toward me, and may have mumbled something…
I don’t know. I was “just coming around,” as you might say,
and raised my hand and felt my ear in place where it ought to be.
Meanwhile, this leader of theirs was giving the swordsman
a proper talking-to. And after that,
he put himself into our hands, and went along
with us to the chief priest.
The thing is — the amazing thing, you see — is,
none of my mates ever knew my ear was off,
and made no mention of it. I suppose
they thought the wild one had made a pass at me and missed;
and I didn’t want to say anything to them then,
not just then, till I had a chance to think it over.

Maybe it didn’t happen, after all? I’ll never know.
But — my hearing’s been different, ever since,
in ways I can’t just put my finger on.

If he was a magician, he was an odd one, don’t you know?
He let them nail him to a cross, and there he hung —
so they tell me. I was on a pass to my home village, by then.
Who’d waste leave-time in Jerusalem, with all those mobs,
and Roman soldiers making a mock of us, and getting all the girls?

Fontaine Fox

by Joseph Baldwin

He drew cartoons that strangely moved me; the jests
were in the foreground; the landscapes they were set in
stretched on beyond them, wan and deftly true:
the awful ordinary. Streets were shown
that had pushed too far from town, curbing set in,
lamps on poles, with nothing to shine upon
but expanse of ground, a single fire hydrant poking
its dome above a cluster of weeds, the corner
store built and then abandoned in this
waste, the “end of track,” where motorman
go out and switched the trolley pole around,
then ate his lunch. These scenes I knew, as a child.
America, in many places, was then
a land of vacant lots. I saw them from
train windows, and from the trolley car, and brooded
over them, not having then formed any
opinion, only bemused by a world unfinished.


by Joseph Baldwin

I saw a squirrel launch himself
from a perch ten feet above where the trunk
of my elm forks to form a V,
and leap across to the other branch,
landing only a foot or so below
his departure point.
Inside such a quaint fur ball,
what suppleness, lithe grace!
How he gathered, flickered across
the space, then landed, again a ball,
and then slimmed out again
to scuttle along a limb!

Could this be only a search
for food, such a ballet?

I must believe he did it
for joy alone.

His flight, for flight it was,
was like words without music,
the words making me hear
a music of my own;
similarly, he wore, for a moment,
splendid and indescribable
wings — of my imagining.