This Wasn’t Always a Desert
Amargosa River Basin—only ten years ago
these brittle salt-crusted flats east of Death Valley
were muddy wetlands. Now so saline, so alkaline,
even the Amargosa niterwort is giving up.
Four inches high, a tiny star of five pink petals
and five stamens surround one fleshy ovary.
Inside: one seed—if lucky botanists find the plants.
Luckier still, and the seed might be viable. Few are.
The Northern Mojave has never been drier.
The Amargosa river runs underground here
before it drops beneath Death Valley.
Upstream, the land drained, farmed, mined, sold, pumped dry.
Break through the white-crystalled soil. See the wort’s rhizomes
—the creeping rootstock that creates a colony, sends
new growth, stores food—withered, alkali-scorched.
Does this remind you of anything?
In 2015, the Oxford Junior Dictionary cut forty common words, all relative
to the Natural world, replacing them with terms of the virtual world.
Willow Minnow Mussel Lark
Acorn Adder Otter Fern
Not used enough to merit an entry.
Singled out for loss—Raven.
I have to build,
the sculptor says,
what I need
these wax creatures
I keep bringing
into the world.
His Orpheus series,
each one expressing
the metaphor slightly
Why we need
I lie awake, worry about
linnet, fen, hallow.
Plain as the panes in a penniless
chapel, this room’s four panels
of diamond-patterned leaded glass
streaked yellow-green as if
two colors of molten glass were
poured together and unstirred.
On this September afternoon
for over an hour they glow warm
and rich as saffron, pour light
onto a quartet of bronzes
each centered before a panel.
Primal as gods: the four elements—
Fire, Earth, Air and Water—
dark against the glass until
that liquid hour when the sun
re-enacts the crucible’s flow.
Come from fire, in shadow they hold
cold secrets. But backlit and warmed,
they speak of alchemic power:
base material refined to bridge
the body’s core to pure spirit.
This Thin Line of the Present
where past and future confront
each other is the threshold of all else—
every learned or felt thing. It all
happens here: the inner and outer
vying for balance as this line advances
relentlessly toward the unknowable
while the past—part refugee, part
asylum seeker—hauls behind
its bundles of memory and circumstance.
The task of refining takes place here
in this narrow, but expandable, present:
the dark prima materia of our lives
transformed into a lantern held high
to illuminate one step then the next
A pair of red-tailed hawks ride the thermals
from the valley floor up the face of this hillside.
My mind, swept clear of all intention, follows
their turning gyre, spiral in the sky. They climb
the wind, sail without effort on a stream
of energy that Nature, in her generosity, provides.
A sign from the spirit world—
intuition awakening insight.
Hawks, lend me your keen-eyed vision: whole
sight flowing into sharper focus. Let me
also soar, trusting the wind under my going,
borne up by the ways we connect.
As you and I step off the precipice of the known, you,
love, in passing, lay a feather on the page I’m writing.