Jason Baldinger



In my mid-twenties, when everything went sideways,

It seemed I ended up in Elkins West Virginia,

for no other reason than it was the last town before those old mother mountains

took over, wrapping addled heads in gauze, putting spinning thoughts to sleep.


Outside Elkins, heaven was a hole in a rock,

seen clear from the highway, cars and microbuses parked on the berm in neat lines.

If you jumped the fence, skinny down the gulley, back up the other side,

there would be greetings from private property waterfalls,

forty foot drops, open cavern doubling as shallow lake.



hippie girls and boys passed joints,

kids played in the falls

old people sat on canvas chairs



Fall and winter, alone at the pulpit

respite found and passed in silent congregation.

Eventually those mother mountains couldn’t hold me.


In return, years later, heaven desolate, heaven gone.

Water dammed above empty holes in rocks

sun seated on interstate clouds


Lake nothing, a series of dried muddy stones.


I wonder to an empty cliff face whether stories of


are enough to keep you, to insulate you when

whatever nest you build starts to come down.

I wonder what is man without heaven?


jason baldinger



The Hymn to Grease


10:30 am

the breakfast McDonalds smell


to the lunch McDonalds smell

The ear infection no better

it took over with an upper repertory infection

a few weeks ago

I barely function

I’ve been out of work a few months

shit hasn’t gotten serious yet

it’s coming,

lungs rattle regular now


I had a panic attack the other night


edge of the bed

short gulps at air

almost an hour

my girlfriend insisting on a hospital


it takes full minutes to explain

aversions to hospital bills


by a six thousand dollar ER visit

ten years

I get bills for paper hats

send a ten spot check every time

this is reality

with no insurance


today I’m talking to the McDonald’s manager

about the management program

sipping a small coke

hand over my mouth

to keep dry heaves down

every question answered behind my eyes

“Do Not Vomit”

deep breathe answers


He asks another question

grease smell attack

I think about a girl I dated

about the time of the hospital bill

she worked burger king

we’d race her home

race out of clothes

into a shower

so we didn’t breathe that smell


done with questions

he never took note of what I said

I’ll get the job

everybody does

if you show up

you weed yourself out


you’re desperate enough to stay


I won’t show for the shift

fingers crossed

I find better work

a silver lining






jason baldinger


Last Call


Ohio is forever

variable roadways eat speed.

and it’s the perfect night for speed,

the perfect night for Adderall

the perfect night for Ephedrine

but I never could handle speed.

It makes my heart into a hummingbird dying in my chest.

I already see thing too clearly, too loud,

speed makes all that vision hurt.

Instead, I eat miniature candy bars, Altoids

chase a sugar rush, crash and repeat


Tonight, Orion’s belt is guide.

If unbuckled the sky open

would rain corn stalks and bibles.


Corn stalks and bibles

it’s twenty years ago,

racing interstates after a sixteen hour work day.

Crazy Mike and a bag of Doritos as passengers.

Frozen solid Ohio

the night proves

all highways have ghosts

it’s only a matter of how tired you are,

how split open you are.


We hit Dayton 5 am,

our buddy Brian said we’re twelve hours late.

Payphone calls, convenience stores, below zero nights,

he was at his girls place

He shook his roommate up with telephones

his addled roommate who tried to kill himself a month before,

standing at dorm entrances late night disheveled

holding open doors  so we could crash,

kill some sleep

nervous paranoid sleep.


We skated around Dayton less than twelve hours

before parting with a snowstorm.

On the other side of that front

I found my grandfather had a heart attack.

I drove three hours caught and re-caught a storm

crashed the floor of an imaginary trailer park.



rattled nights

all these years



My grandfather was dead in months.

Brian tossed a bullet in his head in ‘02

a failing marriage and no job were too much,

unless you believe

that his wife’s parents knocked him off to avoid a messy divorce.


Crazy Mike blurted out his suicide to me

Christmas eve that year.

I was busy holding down a record shop,

he was stalling, waiting, finally blurting

I excused myself, went to catch a cigarette

Indianapolis seemed so far away.


Crazy Mike is still crazy

we haven’t talked much since the night

he clocked me in the face with a guitar.

He still chases demons that have already gotten away.

Last time we spoke he used words like schizophrenia


It should be no surprise that that time escapes

rattles, drifts, evaporates, years seem so far away.

I drive, a nauseous dizzy feeling

that would be speed except its sugar.

I wind the engine damn near 100

bleary, I should pull over

but I’m too deep in my head

I can’t stop.


I barely notice the deer

drop off accelerator, swerve

I expect the red and blue splash in the rearview

The officer, one am aviators,

“son, what’s your hurry?”

my eyes dilated diamonds

smile wide as stars says

“baby, I’m just trying

to make Pittsburgh for last call




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