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.
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.
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.
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?
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.