Poems and pictures from the Sonoran Desert

In time, after many hikes, with our hosts (my sister and brother-in-law), these prairie-born eyes gained some pause and poise—enough at least to walk within, let the Sonoran Desert approach me without forever straining. What struck me then, at most every turn, was the antiquity, the ancient life, the liveliness and story that is everywhere smelted and colour-coded into the bright petals and spiky flora, the basalt and tuff and rhyolite. And I thought of Georgia O’Keeffe, her eyes plucking the desert landscape of New Mexico as she would a flower.

 

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Phoenix

It’s not your firebird on funeral pyre,
your centurial demise and rise,
it’s your surplus of purples that hold

my feet to the flames of your myth,
bluestone my bones in the caldera’s boil
and press the mauve ashes of my body into slate.

That I, too, end as purple,
does not oppose my soul.

 

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Sonoran Desert I

On Bell Mountain, Black Mountain, Devil’s Bridge,
The Superstitions, where the sun’s first skin
was shed and lies cooling on the bajadas,

a great cliff-sheltered bird circles and settles
on the leeward side of a soaring column of rock,

curved-beak thrasher sings on a palo verde,
gopher snake tongue-flicks a path over grus and clay

Phainopepla whistles “wurp-weeda-lay”
among the ocotillo and yucca,

brittle bush pushes out yellow flowers,
creosote bush badgers my throat,

and above the Scottsdale valley, rock-wall ruins
of Hohokam remember a mother separating

deer flesh from bone with a sharp stone,
while a child plays in a circle of shale,

and everywhere the ochre of the Sonoran
shines in the lines at the sides of eyes,
and foreheads glisten in the great open-ended hour.

Sedonarock

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Sonoran Desert II

We walk dumb upon your complexity,
but we walk as family,
so tell us, for we’ve felt this:
Is there more love, more desire,
in the desolate sand,
the abandoned agave,
the lonesome cholla and aloe,
the forsaken arms of the saguaro,
than in the gratified hills of the Cotswolds?
Do you yearn to remove your spiny dress,
reveal your succulence?

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Sonoran Desert III

You tolerate my turista plod and prattle,
giving yourself to my clouded eyes,
until the motes and clots have cleared.

So you must know that I have fallen in love with your stones,
and your 50 kinds of prickly pear,
but especially the Beavertail,

it’s purple pads
and unseen glochids at yellow areolas,
enticing and unforgiving.

Perhaps it’s the prairie boy in me,
running over rock piles,
through Canada thistle,

skinny thighs raked and bleeding,
and like a hail of speargrass,
that sudden fall of awe,

on the boy who still loves to fall in love
with everything but chores.

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12 Comments

  1. Having just come from there, I love this. My Henry, the prairie boy, will join you running through thistle in that last poem, I’m sure. Thank you for the beauty of these catch and release moments…

    Joyce

  2. Phoenix captures the visual and poetry that follows. Pressed into purple! One could do worse than be Phoenix as food for prairie wool and crocuses.

  3. Thanks, Steve – beautiful pics amplified by the poetry. Wish we could have joined you! Something about being prairie boys prepared us to wander? Not just to get away from the chores right?

  4. I believe it is something about the prairies, especially Saskatchewan that allows boys to grow up and be close to sixty (or over) and continue to fall in love. If you can’t enjoy Saskatchewan like a lover enthralls over their chosen, you will never understand the everyday beauty that buds and blossoms in the arid places. Anyone can find spiritual water when there are falls cascading over them, but it takes a special person to lick the dew of the desert and be satiated….and then turn around and share with all around them. I see you do that over and over Stephen in your writing, your pictures and poetry…Thank you.

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