ONE OF THE FIRST QUESTIONS
when arriving in the desert is how a rented house, some crows,
and sprigs of spring lilac can make it into my head, then out again
as language. Never mind, somebody else’s bed and mirrors full
Even when settled with a cold beer at dusk to study colors
on a paint chart, I am at a loss. Add to that the nightly apparition of my
neighbor who rises before dawn to water and hum to her weeds. Blanket
pulled over my head, I breathe under pillows.
The dog with a rhinestone
collar doesn’t change. She falls right into stanzas. Suzie is always Suzie—
asleep by the mailboxes or chasing cars up the dirt road.
I walk that road out
to the chapel with a big crucifix and outhouse behind it. They’ve been there
longer than anyone cares to remember. Easter, hooded men still arrive to whip
themselves and moan like ghosts. Penitents. Old blood on their minds, sparkled
statue of a horse poised by someone’s trailer. Beyond that comes the long view—
plain of tough sage, Pueblo land all the way past Sacred Mountain.
I write into
sun-up or gray days, drag five notebooks, as if they were the lit ocean floor,
for anything resembling my muse. Fragments of fragments she can feed me.
Leaf shadow from the pale adobe walls. Imposter, she whispers,
this is not your land.
I can’t find an opening, or the broom, or even the hose
said to be curled in the rafters. The off-button on the alarm clock escapes me
when the neighbor quits watering, and I doze. But, let’s go back to my initial
question of how to embody another’s scented space—all that a quandary until
early one Friday
I recognize the wind at the screen door, its tap. Then the clap
of pigeon wings, forty of them lifting twenty birds, and by afternoon burrs thicken
my socks after scavenging the plain once more. I recognize these scratches as I do
the cemetery caretaker who glares an off-with-you and slams his door when he sees
me coming. Because of regular appearances among the graves, I am rebelliously
at home, a squatter of sorts.
Soon the outhouse behind the chapel is mine too.
Wafts of ancient odor spread with grasshoppers in the sage, and I understand
how the greater part of transmutation arrives with restlessness—coyote’s howl that
creeps into my bed at night along with the moon. Bark and bay in the cold light.
Likewise, I vibrate with what moves the desert at dark.
My last morning there
an ant crawls diagonally across the notebook page, and three Bosque pears want
to be jammed in at the end: skewed models of balance, I scribble and zip the toy
fox in my luggage, lost grandfather for my little one. Also to carry home, a fresh
blue wing tattooed on my left ankle. Small and solitary, it marks the path
path that wobbles.
Easter falling on the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox
allowed nomadic pilgrims enough light to travel by.
Stillness in the moonlit mirrors—
one marked out, the other
deeper into wander.
Hunger and fast fill the blue emptiness
of 4 a.m. Who am I to question space
in someone else’s double bed, sectioned off
for me and god knows what next phantom?
Coyote howls in the desert. Half asleep,
I mumble, wily move, drawn to the tremors
Drought, and magpies fly through the cottonwoods—
carnival magic on a stick, these raucous birds in black
and white. Two magpies are hand-painted on the sheet
beneath my pillow,
mythic birds of happiness flattened
on pale linen.
Footsteps under the window at night tell me the neighbor’s
at it again. Humming, she hoses the wither called her garden.
A tale, I think, is due this dark lady—the one that ends,
And, as always, thirty thirsty magpies peck apart
the sleepless creature and her fat hose of desert water.
Sitting in the backyard with paint-charts and a glass of beer,
I wonder how long that crow can blow about on the branch,
and not fly away. A young Korean lilac roots in arid soil,
crow flickers in the leaves, and the air’s so dry it glitters,
my eyes so parched, they’re hard to close. At sunset, I give
the birdbath two cups of water and a chunk of quartz carried
back from the canyon switchback. In town, the drummer calls
the hungry in for supper. There’ll be no crow to judge when this
branch is empty, and I return to the shifting shades between
ocean cloud and deep seashell.
If the National Wildlife Fund hadn’t sent me the stuffed barn-owl
as a thank-you for my donation, I might not recognize what’s calling
from the tree. But I had squeezed that bird each night so my cat could
hear its who-whooos, two short then two long.
Now an owl filled
with breath echoes at twilight. Vociferous kin, this bird whose fund-
raising twin slept with my cat for months in a house only feet from
the Eastern Divide. You think this an exaggeration?
I know how far sound travels.
April on the back road to the Penitentes Cemetery where the dusty
lilacs bloom. By evening the stacked mailboxes are empty, and
beneath them, the napping dog takes time-out to chase a passing car,
or two. Most slow down, used to Suzie’s habits. Quite a different
response from the sign nailed every three feet on the fence ahead:
NO TRESPASSING!!! There’s even a huge one in red propped
against the chimney. As I walk by, a boy yells from the upstairs
window, hey lady, we own this road you know. The holy land
he calls it, though in both directions folks walk home with groceries.
I grin, pick lilacs through his fence for Suzie’s rhinestone collar,
then drop photos from my folder of the big black crucifix this side
of Pueblo land and Sacred Mountain. In dream that night, my plane
careens towards chimneys, then suddenly floats to a stop over
Suzie asleep in the dust.
Four windows of the chapel are boarded up, and it’s hard to find
a door or to get the story straight about who first crucified
the long line of penitents begun who would flay
themselves for countless holy weeks into the future.
Yesterday when asked about the term morado, the cab driver
looked straight at me, and said this was not his people’s language,
and drove a whole lot faster.
Behind the chapel there’s the crucifix and outhouse with three holes
in a rotted plank of wood. Count the years
backwards to when the body finally was nailed up and men
emptied their stomachs under the Easter moon.