Pictures and Words from around Arizona

Paintings Chronicles: Poems from Arizona History Photos from southern Arizona In Costa Rica Photographs from winter and springtime The Kafka Within, an essay Books Creature comforts: our companions Fires of Change Pictures and Words from around Arizona New Book

From the Chiricahus, Santa Ritas, San Pedro River, Organ Pipe Cactus Monument and Agassiz Peak.

Lost Hat

 

Forty winters soft, the hat

is too comfortable and too green

to leave for packrats or

a fox beneath the frosty stars.

First place to look

is past the cattle guard, where the view

back into the mountains

was worth the photograph, and if

not there

                perhaps close

to the ocotillo with tire tracks

curving two days old beside the road.

Nothing but a shrike

on a yucca stalk's tip looking straight

across the prickly pear and tangled

grasses,

          then a Crissal's thrasher

shows itself before it proves how easily

disappearances occur

in desert. One more curve

and looking at the ground is hard

when the moment is so brilliant

with noonlight on the pinnacles ahead,

but there it is,

                        with nowhere to hide

on the wide open land.

 

 

 

A Summer Photograph

 

A ridge stands clear against the paling sky

with its broken clouds that glow

at the edges facing

a warm day’s sun as it falls behind

Baboquivari Peak.  The middle ground

 

is ochre rounded into an ascent

toward the higher slopes with oak and pine

and lizards slipping into

gaps in rock beside the trail that turns to air

at the pinnacle. A few last calls

 

are sprinkled across a silence running all the way

from the grasslands to Mount Wrightson

where granite burns

red beneath a shy moon just beginning

its trajectory through night. And we

 

have shaken off the shadows cast

upon us by the juniper

where we followed the blue grosbeak back

to daylight and stopped

in a clearing whose moment is earth

 

and air framed with the texture

of fire and the bare, knotted branches

scratching into the dusk at the right of the scene

to be remembered as it was

just before the nighthawks and the stars.

 

 

 

After Turning off Interstate 10

 

Nothing casts a shadow on this road

except a cloud. It’s pale dust and desert

all the way. Today, there’s a wind

tugging at the sky’s darkest edge

and the ground dips

while the view runs straight ahead

 

to rise into the mountains.

A dry scent crosses from the Peloncillos

to Whitetail Canyon and the sun

burns where it can

through such gaps that allow

blue to flash through them

 

onto land that supports the most stubborn

of shrubs. The air sounds like a sheet

flapping, and a raven is riding

each gust as it coughs out the bad news

that a dust storm had formed

on the freeway to the north

 

where traffic folded so quickly

the passengers barely knew

the fires they were swallowed in.

 

 

 

The Vermilion Cliffs

 

Through the residue the wind

left behind after carving

light into shapes that endure,

 

the double yellow line that leads

to the edge of the world

runs to the point where the sky

opens for it to pass

 

and continues toward the stars,

leaving in its wake

rock stretched thin

 

in layers recording time

back to when a sea was here,

 

feeling for a shore.

 

 

 

Leaving Portal

 

The road slides from under snow

and away toward the frozen grasslands

lying pale against clouds

that have settled between the Peloncillos

and the Chiricahuas, barely higher

than the telegraph poles

from which hawks watch the stillness

before they thaw their wings and fly

into the day’s breath with talons

sharpened by the cold.

To Ajo and Back

 

I   Highway 85

 

A migratory flock in V formation flies

across the Gila River, where

the trees along its banks

are pastel smoke in March

 

when lupines, broom and mallow

line the road all the way

past yet another desert lonely prison

where the only movement visible

 

is that of swallows looping

high above the sparkling razor wire.

 

II   The Depot at Ajo

 

When wind combs back

the grasses sprouting

from the platform's cracks

it's telling how the mine closed

and left a wall of tailings

along the edge of town

 

but the Cactus wrens stayed on

to call from palo verdes

rooted in between the tracks.

 

III   Desert Arch

 

The ocotillo fan their many arms

to receive the wind

that blows volcanic shadows

over rocks dripping from the light

in rhyolite layers moulded

to the shape of the Earth

 

and high above them

an arch has formed

through which the stars

flow when they follow

bats into the night.


IV   Folklorico Dance on the Plaza

 

In stately descent

from a clear sky

the turkey vultures glide

over the open pit mine,

down close to the old school

and the white cupola

on the Catholic church,

eighty wings wide above the plaza

as festivities begin

 

and they are silence over music

when they reach the eucalyptus

growing next to the mortuary

they have chosen for a roost.

 

(V   Border Patrol on the Reservation

 

Into grass at the asphalt’s edge

a roadrunner darts for cover,

neck stretched forward and back

as straight as the road from Why

to Quitohoa. He’s gone

so fast not even the agent can see

 

from the truck parked behind

the old billboard whose lettering

has flaked beyond explanation

of why it is there.

 

VI   Reservation Spring

 

In a land whose rivers are dry

wildflowers flow

from shrine to shrine

and spring to spring;

from needles filled with light

on the cholla to a mine

cut from a mountainside.

 

 

 

Reservation Vista

 

Through the days of March

and mallow, power poles

lead from mesquite to the mound

with a tank painted white, behind which

the peak that is sacred

to those who drink the water

touches the highest point

in many lifetimes.

                              Raven calls

travel farthest here, across the saguaro

studded hill and away

toward the border

where a man who wants

not to be seen might slip

quick as a lizard between

green shadows.

                          But to disappear

completely and to leave no trace

requires imagination

such as the mockingbird displays

by the infinite variety of songs

it sends in all directions

pretending to be anything except itself

while remaining so familiar

nobody notices

when it tips back its head

and pours the notes out

in a stream that runs

directly to the sun.

 

 

 

Reservation Time

 

A pickup truck moves faster than history

in these wildflower days

along a road through country

that remembers the jaguar

and ocelot.

It has somewhere to be,

 

a future to reach

before summer, with a full tank

of gas and no time

to pull over and look

 

at what the first priests saw

when they stopped with tiny stones

in their sandals

to bless each plant

before they knew its name

 

to catalog and claim it

for eternity.

Late Road

 

Walking the road

in the oak and juniper light

of late afternoon

we go quietly beneath

the wings of descending

vultures who have cleansed

the world’s bone to bare white.

 

 

 

On Both Sides

 

On the other side of the hill

someone is planning a mine

that will hollow out the earth

while on this side a Canyon wren

is hiding in the wood pile

set aside for winter.

On the other side

 

of the hill, uniformed men patrol

the arroyos to search

for the poor who have travelled

a long way from home

and a river is wrung

dry by a handshake. But

 

this side is where commerce

is suspended while orioles

come to feed. On the other side,

farther away, are cities

paved with unrest; on this side

 

anyone is welcome

to sit down in the company

of jays and woodpeckers, for whom

there is only this side of the hill,

knowing nothing about

the other side

and the treaties that were broken there.

 

 

 

Texas Canyon

 

These rocks appear not to have been awakened

for centuries.

                     They balance

on each other and lean

against the wind with the distinction

of being smooth

                           in rough country.

Heavy trucks and fast cars

pass constantly

while they never break

formation.

                When the land surrounding them

is tired from drought

they hold a pose to display

virtuosity and endurance.

                                           They are

the last break in a journey

nine hours from Los Angeles,

fifty million years

                            from magma

pushing out of darkness,

three hours with a cold drink

to Las Cruces.

 

 

 

A Yard in Ajo, Early Morning

 

                                    These things

                        astonish me beyond words

                        - William Carlos Williams

 

Drops of finch-red balance

on the power line

dipping above the alley

to the west,

                   while quail

attentively investigate the ground

they cross to reach the yard

whose desert willow casts

morning shade across agave

soon to bloom.

                        An ant

smaller than the letters

moves across a page

of William Carlos Williams

open to words

                       generously spaced

to let them pass. Cactus wrens

chortle in the oleander. Doves

who introduced themselves

from far away

fly to pole-tops and proclaim

their presence there.

                                 Between

flecks of light on bark

a lizard descends, then bends

and straightens his forelegs

to raise his eight-inch torso

above stones,

                     and away

from light a Bronzed cowbird’s

red eye buttons

the shadows down.

 

 

 

River Weather

 

White smoke rises from the shoulder

of a mountain embedded

in a rain-dark sky, below which

a freight train carries stormlight

across the open land.

 

*

 

With stars above the river,

mice in the grass

and toads on the stones,

a mantis glides

across a bed of insect sounds.

 

*

 

While the gods roll dice

behind the clouds,

dark water turns on its bed

and the surface shadows

become a heron’s wing.

 

*

 

There’s a feral sky

above the ghost town site

where Black-throated sparrows

fly into and out of

the thundering grass.

From Agassiz Peak

 

From eleven thousand feet the shadows

cast by clouds rock

back and forth as they float down

through volcanic light

to the forests where they break

apart between the pines

and disappear into late summer grass.

 

Windgusts at that altitude

slide from a raptor’s wing

and dissolve in thin air

while the view from the treeline

runs sky-wide and frost-bright

to the point where Earth and rain

pale into each other.

 

A misplaced glance

would slip back a thousand years

to be swallowed by lava

and leave no foothold

on the crater’s edge.

 

Prairies tumble, edge over edge,

while forests tighten their grip

against winter, which begins

its descent from the first

aspen leaf to turn yellow.

 

 

 

Highway 85

 

A desert prison lies at rest

beneath sweeps of light

that break through changing clouds

on the day after rain

                             and wet

shadows cling to the rock

formations on the bright side

of the highway

                    as sun picks out

remaining pools and vegetation

stripped to its winter core

                                    on land

pulling free from a harrier’s grip.

 

 

 

Alamo Canyon

 

Sky sails through the open roof

to a long abandoned house,

 

pulling as it rises

organ pipe, saguaro, creosote,

 

and cholla to the thumb

of rock impressing

 

itself on the cool blue light

spread wide across January’s

 

rain scented desert

all the way along the trail

 

to an old corral

whose fences have surrendered

 

to mesquite and brittlebush

and the wind coming down

 

to the stones in the creek

with hollows the Indians had made

 

after grinding the last

of their beans into flour

 

while the thrashers kept singing

in the space they left behind.

 

 

 

January Light

I

Inside the cholla’s many branches

green withholds its secrets

and such drops

of moisture as they have absorbed

from recent rain

 

while its needles are sharpened

by a glow suggesting

softness, even

as they scratch

the light that passes through them.

 

II

When sun hits the peak

it takes hold

and raises it to where

it hovers with the desert

still below.

The shadow draped

 

from its darker side

runs down

toward the earth with

gravity’s weight to propel it.

 

III

Where a shadow’s edge

touches illuminated rock

a ripple occurs

in time’s fault line.

 

IV

A clear sky’s wind

blows light across a canyon

 

where a bright trail winds

towards the final descent

 

into a creek that swallows it

and feels its way in the dark.

 

V

These are the unmarked paths

for those who cross the border

in the dark.

Illusions grow here

 

with shallow roots. They are always

as close as a shadow

to the light that creates it.

Departure

 

A desert ridge

is a wash of dreamstone

across clear sky.

                    Before it

are saguaros standing in the backlight

that grants each one an aura.

                                       Whoever

lived here in the time before

the days had hours

knelt patiently and worked

                                       until

the winter sun was low

and they rose and walked away,

each one a darkness

edged with fire

                    that moved

as people do when leaving

history behind them.

 

         

 

Landscape with Observatory

 

Ocotillo brush the line

along a dry ridge.

                       From the highest

peak visible a telescope

is focused on infinity. A dirt road

rises to the altitude

juniper take root.

                        The sky

is open.

         A yucca stalk

leans to almost fallen. Sparrows

call all the way down

to the church where the wind

blows in Spanish:

                        black robe

to gray robe, granite to grass.

 

 

 

Night Ride to the Desert’s Heart

 

After city’s end

where the last mall shines

like sunset in a box

the nighthawks rise

into the gap

between day and night.

The highway enters darkness,

swallowing all

who drive along it,

pulse and roar

running down to a hum

at dreampace past

the full moon rolling

from between two ridges

and ascending

in time

with a coyote’s

silver call.

 

 

 

Scenic Drive

 

The road curls out of a small town

and climbs the rocks

that overlook the churches and

plaza lying fifty years below.

Cactus columns green

into the sky,

 

fine stones curve

toward volcanic shapes

containing sound that never

shall be heard again.

A few signs remain

 

that somebody was here

in another life: the ruins

once inhabited, the tank

that held a season’s water,

and beyond them the tailings dam

 

banked against sunlight.

Lizards have dominion

on the dry slope

where they breathe for the stones

 

and the drive descends

to join the highway

with two-way traffic

speeding in

one-way time.

 

 

 

Organ Pipe Checkpoint

 

When the officer asks

                          Are you a citizen?

the answer isn’t easy

to articulate. It’s been

eleven thousand years since the ice cap

receded for mesquite

to grow here, and six thousand

five hundred later the Organ pipe

appeared. The oldest

mountains have been worn

down to what they are

by sixty million years of weather

while the plates beneath them

shifted. It all

               made a place where the Cactus wrens

could nest among thorns

and scrape against silence with their calls.

There’s a green light today

growing out from where the earth cracks.

Every vista here

                      ends long ago,

too far away

for anyone to call it home.

 

 

 

For the Raven

 

The stone light on a slow road

runs straight past a raven

who bounces from a fence post

with a bone held shining in his beak.

Dawn to Dusk

 

The shadow cast

at first light slides

into  the gap between the two

white rock formations

below Silver Peak

where junipers and oaks

absorb it.

             Hours flow

downslope while grosbeaks

sing in the ash tree

and the slowly circling vultures

rise toward noon.

                       Lizards' minutes

run across the rocks

as time drips deeper

into the mineshafts

whose mouths open among

sparrows and scrub.

                         Sit a while

in the yard among oranges

where tanagers come to feed

until the mountain

glows as if the light

comes from inside it,

                            before

the calm snaps

when the skunk grubbing

for insects with his tail

held signal high

runs between your legs

as you manage to grab

hold

      of the dog intent

on chasing it.

 

 

 

Lost and Found

 

            when the road forked they took

            both ways

                        Richard Shelton

 

There are no wrong roads on dry earth

where far off mountains stretch

along the hazy skyline

and greenery is sparse

beneath the Swainson’s hawk

looking out from a telegraph pole

with a warm wind in his coverts.

 

A suede glow reaches

each horizon, with dust

enough for the sunlight

to soak into air as it streams

down. Along the way

 

are ruins whose walls hold up

the sky, and the remnants

of journeys that paused

for more fuel at the pumps

casting empty shadows. Destinations

 

aren’t important where ravens call

which direction to take,

one for each point

of the compass in a country

without rivers or signposts.

 

 

 

From the Ben Lilly Lookout

 

Trogon or turkey? The deep call rises

from the forest below

to the lookout rocks, where a metal plaque

pays tribute to Ben Lilly

who killed the last wild grizzly in the Gila Wilderness

and too many lions

for counting. If a trogon, then surely

the first here on record. The ones he didn’t shoot

he killed with a knife whose blade

was a vicious curve. In Lilly’s day

God called upon his kind to cull

the numbers, and he worked as well

for government as for a man

with time and money to spend on tracking down

a bear whose size

set him up for sport. Listening carefully

the call comes two notes at a time, suggesting

trogon. But here? Ben Lilly slept

in tree boughs, ate cougar meat, earned

seventy-five dollars a month

to hunt and trap in Arizona, and brought

extinction close enough to touch.

A turkey is no surprise, even though

the rarity would make a better story: a bird

worth waiting hours for,

just to see the flash

of red and know it lives

against whatever odds the age

has set against it.

 

 

 

Circling Patagonia

 

The hills after rain have greened

from the wild cotton scattered

across them to the ocotillo reaching

 

from buckled slopes toward

the light drenched clouds

above the Santa Ritas. Tsp, chip,

 

wichety, and a rattle

in the cottonwoods. Whit

whitwhitwhit and water

 

chattering in the creek beneath

softly hissing leaves; k-k-k-k and a Caw

where riparian light and thunder

 

intersect. At a warm day's end

shadows circle down

from a clear sky to rest on trees

 

whose roots draw time from beneath them

while kingbirds high and bright

by setting sun loop into the insect air.